Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
April 1, 2024 ·  4 min read

Gua Sha: Surprising Health Benefits of The Red Dragon Massage

Vacations are meant to be a time for relaxation, which is exactly what South Australian couple Matthew and Candise Raison were looking for on their sixth day in Bali. Too fatigued to leave their hotel after almost a week filled with adventures, the Raisons ordered in – a massage, that is. The red dragon massage to be specific.

The masseur massaged Candise first, an experience she enjoyed very much. But when it came time for Matthew to get his massage, he was faced with a vey strange question: Did Matthew want to “get the red dragon out of him?” [1]

Unsure if they were facing some sort of cultural or language barrier, Candise finally said, “I don’t know what you’re saying but my husband will try anything, go for it!” [1]

However, this massage was different from the first. The masseur pulled out a coin and started running it along Matthew’s body explaining that, by tomorrow, it (his body?) would be a red dragon. Although the couple really wasn’t sure what he meant by that, it didn’t take long.

What is Gua Sha, or red dragon massage?

The name of the unconventional coin massage he received is traditionally known as “gua sha.” Also referred to as “skin scraping,” “spooning” or “coining,” gua sha comes from the Chinese word for scraping. [2]

It involves rubbing the skin vertically and horizontally with just enough pressure to create very slight bruising using a coin, spoon, smooth stone, or other safe tool. [3]

This form of traditional Chinese medicine is used not only to massage muscles, but to remove impurities from the body’s tissues. When someone receives gua sha, it is also believed to help your energy (i.e., qi or chi) flow more freely through your body which contributes to both physical and mental wellbeing. [3]

The health benefits of the red dragon massage

Would you get it this massage done? Some of the benefits can include: [2]

  • Relief of menopause symptoms
  • Neck and shoulder pain relief
  • Faster recovery from weight training
  • Back pain relief in older adults

“People also believe that qi can become blocked, causing pain or tension in the muscles and joints,” according to Medical News Today. [2] “Gua sha aims to move this blocked energy to relieve aches or stiffness.”

If anyone can attest to all those health benefits, it’s Matthew Raison who works on the power lines for South Australia Power Networks. His wife told Daily Mail that, for the last three years, he had been complaining about back soreness and that the gua sha “treatment worked wonders for her husband’s chronic back pain… ‘He hasn’t complained about a sore back since!’” [1]

Gua sha is used by registered massage therapists and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners alike. What is most shocking about this alternative therapy is the visible effects – the skin discoloration and minor bruising. Arguably, it looks a lot worse than it is and while there isn’t a whole lot of research backing up the heath benefits of gua sha, some do exist!

Studies Suggest Gua Sha Is an Effective Pain Relief Treatment

An August 2014 study published in the Journal of Medical Technology and Physical Therapy found that gua sha improved the quality of life for people who frequently used computers. [4] Compared to computer user who didn’t receive gua sha treatment, those who did reported feeling less pain and having greater range of motion.

Another 2017 study published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine treated older adults who had chronic low back pain with a hot pack and gua sha. [5] Although participants reported feeling less pain after both treatments, researchers found that gua sha had a longer lasting anti-inflammatory effect.

Who Shouldn’t Have Gua Sha?

It may not seem like a big problem, but there are certain types of people who should avoid this unique massage. They include people who: [2]

  • Bleed easily
  • Have deep vein thrombosis
  • Take medication to thin their blood
  • Have medical conditions that affect the veins or skin
  • Have an implant (e.g., pacemaker, internal defibrillator)

Alternative treatments can seem weird or intimidating, but the best thing you can do is your research. Although you may not be comfortable receiving a “red dragon” massage from a stranger in Bali, therapies such as gua sha can be incredibly beneficial. (Just look at Matthew Raison!) However, always be sure to ask your massage therapist or TCM practitioner any questions you have before starting treatment.

Keep Reading: Benefits of Cupping Therapy: Alternative Medicine for Pain, Immunity & Digestion


  1. [1] Laura Hedges For Daily Mail Australia. (2018, October 04). Why you should ALWAYS ask: Australian left with red marks on back after red dragon massage in Bali. Retrieved from https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6242005/Why-ask-Australian-left-red-marks-red-dragon-massage-Bali.html?ito=social-facebook
  2. [4] Saenlee, K., Eungpinichpong, W., & Chatchawan, U. (n.d.). Immediate effects of Gua Sha therapy for reducing neck and shoulder pain associated with myofascial trigger point in computer users. Retrieved from https://www.tci-thaijo.org/index.php/ams/article/view/66337
  3. [5] Yuen, J. W., Tsang, W. W., Tse, S. H., Loo, W. T., Chan, S. T., Wong, D. L., . . . Chiang, V. C. (2017, June). The effects of Gua sha on symptoms and inflammatory biomarkers associated with chronic low back pain: A randomized active-controlled crossover pilot study in elderly. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28619301