Can gua sha scraping help to ease tension headaches?

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Hanna Ibraheem
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In Chinese medicine practices, a scalp massage can help to alleviate the effects of tension headaches. Here, a practitioner explains how to do it.

It’s probably happened to you before. You’re going about your day-to-day business, feeling stressed and bam – you’re hit with a headache. Or maybe you’ve woken up with one and struggled to shake it off all day.

Headaches are incredibly common and, according to the NHS, most tend to go away on their own. However, there are things you can do to ease the effects. The NHS suggests drinking plenty of water, resting, trying to relax and taking either paracetamol or ibuprofen.

In Chinese medicine, it is believed that a head massage can help to reduce the intensity of a tension headache and can leave you feeling relaxed. But if you struggle to convince somebody in your household or live alone, a gua sha (a skincare tool often used for facial massage) could be a good option.

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Tension headaches are characterised by dilated blood vessels around the skull,” explains Katie Brindle, Chinese medicine practitioner and founder of Hayo’u Method and Hayo’u Fit. “Caused by impeded blood flow, headaches are worsened by stress.

“The stress process creates heat inside the body that is pushed up and away from the key organs. As the heat gets trapped it results in headaches. Gua sha helps this heat to escape, and it stimulates the blood flow to ease the pain.”

While there are lots of gua shas available with specially-crafted curves and ridges, Brindle recommends going for one that has been designed in the shape of a comb, as this allows you to massage the scalp easier.

“In Chinese medicine, the organs all have a connection to the head, via the meridian channels,” says Brindle. “Combing gently stimulates your meridians via the multiple acupressure points on your head to release tension and positively affect your overall health. This comb works to unblock energy channels and release stagnation.”

What does Brindle mean by stagnation? “That’s any blockage of qi (energy) in the body,” she explains. Qi isn’t the same as the circulation, but it is linked. When you stimulate your blood flow or move your lymphatic fluid, your qi is also stimulated. Everything flows together.

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“According to Chinese medicine, the quality and movement of qi through the body determines your health. The ideal state is one of smooth flow with no imbalances or blockages, which are called stagnation or stagnant qi.

“If you have continued stagnation, whether physical, emotional or spiritual, Chinese medicine says this will eventually manifest as disease. Along the meridians are places where qi is more abundant and behaves in a way that makes it accessible; these are where acupuncture needles are inserted. Each point will have a particular function related to the mind, body or spirit, or a combination.”

Here, Brindle explains how to use a gua sha comb to relieve tension headaches.

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How to use a gua sha comb on your scalp, explained by Katie Brindle

  • Start slowly and gently and build up to the right pressure for you. You don’t need to wet your hair or apply product to do this ritual.
  • Using the prongs of your gua sha comb, massage your scalp using short strokes. Start at the top of your forehead, from the hairline, and inch your way backwards along one side of your head. Don’t press too hard – just increase the pressure until it feels right for you.
  • Work backwards, all the way down the centre line of your head, until you get right down to the nape of your neck. This will stimulate the bladder channel at the back of the neck and gallbladder at the side. 
  • Now, begin combing from your temple in the same short bursts backwards. Again, don’t press too hard. You’ll find you’ll hit little spots of tension that feel great. So, when you find one, linger. Note, these will be the acupoints.
  • Finally, go across to just above your ear and repeat.
  • Now repeat the process across the other side of your scalp.
  • Then, finish by pressing and wriggling the comb a little at the nape of the neck.

Additional tips

  • You could also use a metal gua sha tool. Simply use the double curved end and rake it over the head from front to back. This increases the blood flow over the head which will help alleviate your headache. 
  • You should also gua sha your chest to clear any heat that may be contributing to your headache.
  • If you feel that your headaches are caused by intense concentration by doing things like staring at screens, frowning and so on, try pressing your gua sha tool lightly into your temples. If you have a crystal gua sha tool, you can keep that in the fridge and then hold it to your temples. 

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