Coin Rubbing for Healing?

Let me start by saying that this post isn’t meant to be condescending or written with an ironic tone.

Having said that, what’s up with the coin rubbing for healing purposes here in Indonesia?

After the gym last night, I dropped by the grocery store to pick up a few things. As I was going down the aisle, a maid (I believe) was blocking my way – before I politely asked if I may pass, I noticed massive red streaks down her neck and going down her back. For a moment I wondered if she has been beaten or something, as it was obviously something that had recently damaged her skin. Then I remembered that it’s a very common healing practice to (correct me if I’m wrong) rub coins down the body (only the back?) of an ailing person. They rub with such intensity that it causes temporary streaks to show all down the body.

I’m very accepting of new ideas and especially Eastern approaches to medicine. I believe many Western countries dope themselves up with too many medications and survive on horrendous diets – but this one I don’t get. Part of my theory is that perhaps the pain and damaging effect of the coin rubbings may release natural endorphins – in effect releasing pain killers into the body? Is the pain a distraction from what other ailments may be affecting the person? Is is psycho-somatic in nature? Is it something class driven (used by wealthy as well as average person)? Is it Indonesian in roots or Chinese as well?

If anyone can provide a clear answer to this, it’d be one less mystery that I deal with on a daily basis here. Last time I posed a question relating to “masuk angin” I was even more confused by the answers given and never had an explanation that settled my curiosity.

Note: I found an article on Wikipedia shortly after posting this – it offers some insight, but I’d still like to hear Indonesian perspectives on this topic.


Gua sha (??) is a technique used by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Gua sha (pronounced “gwa shar,”) involves firmly rubbing a person’s skin with a ceramic soup spoon or large coin. The goal is to relieve stagnation, or in other words, to clear some illness from the body by getting it to move. Gua sha is used commonly on respiratory illnesses, for example, where the skin of the upper back, neck, and chest may be rubbed. Gua sha is known for leaving red and purple marks on the skin that look painful but are not. Well-meaning practitioners of western medicine are sometimes shocked at the sight of these marks and fear that a child with the marks has been abused. For professionals in this position, it is helpful to be familiar with the appearance of gua sha marks and to understand its traditional therapeutic value. It is helpful to be able to make the distinction between gua sha marks and signs of abuse. Gua sha is not known to be harmful. The technique called cupping also leaves distinctive, bruise-like marks on the skin, but is also harmless.

Another article provided some humor as well:


A Vietnamese girl in her first year at an American elementary school, was not feeling well one morning, so her mother rubbed the back of her neck with a coin. When the school staff discovered the welts on the girls neck, they immediately assumed they were seeing a case of child abuse and reported the family to the authorities.

In each case the patient was practicing a traditional form of healing known as coin rubbing. There are several variations, including heating the coin, but they all involve vigorously rubbing the body with a coin. This produces red welts, which can distract medical staff from the real problem or be mistaken for child abuse. It is important to recognize and become familiar with this practice, and not to be distracted from the real problem or mistakenly make accusations of child abuse.

Asians rubbing their children with coins is not any more abuse than Americans having thin pieces of metal wrapped around their children’s teeth and tightened until their teeth move out of place. Braces are usually applied for merely aesthetic reasons. Coin rubbing, at least, is an attempt to heal. Apparently, it often works, only the failures show up in the medical system.

Many interesting stories about cultural clashing can be found here – culturediversity.org.

  • http://www.rnugraha.net Riza

    Ahehehe .. we call it “kerokan”. Once I saw a movie about an American family who adopted a Vietnamese girl and shocked when they found the girl rubbed her neck by a coin. I think “kerokan” was meant to give a warm feeling on your chest/neck and back to cure the cold. You know .. 100 years ago we had no Vicks VapoRub here.

    Visit the tutorial about “kerokan” :D http://hericz.blogsome.com/2005/07/29/teknik-kerokan-untuk-pemula/ .. too bad it’s in Indonesian.

  • http://orange.wordpress.com Emi

    Enlightening. I thought it was traditional Indonesian practice. The only person in my family ever consented to have her back getting “kerok” is my mother, when she was young and suffered from “masuk angin”. My skinny brother wanted to experience it, but my mom didn’t think his body was strong enough. Personally I see the experience rather painful…Especially when done by a pro “tukang kerok”. I mean… doesn’t it sting?

  • laletijo

    You have to first apply analgesic balm/oil (eg minyak kayu putih (eucalyptus oil) or vicks vaporub) to the skin for the ‘kerokan’ to work optimally. The idea is to relax the targeted muscle (usually the neck, back or stomach area). I think its the combination of the oil which eases the tense muscle and the coin rubbing motion, which my guess is to help the oil penetrate the skin/muscle tissue. All I can say is, don’t knock it until you try it, as I’m a recent convert, because it does work! Oh have you seen the minty/menthol based white patch (aka salonpas) that people stick on their neck/back? This work wonders also, although you’ll get dirty looks from people within close vicinity because not only does it sting, it stinks as well

  • http://ceplik.blogspot.com ceplik

    This isn’t a pleasant way of healing but it always works very well for me.
    You should pray getting a flu and have it done :P
    You’ll get red “tattoos” on your back hehehe

  • http://theeternaluturn.blogspot.com shinta

    Hahaha…yeah, I never got into the kerokan thing even though I spent half of my life in Indonesia. I used to be so horrifed at the sight of the red marks on my dad’s back after a kerokan session.

  • alicia

    I’ve seen Rio with those marks on his neck, and he’s of Chinese-Indonesian heritage. It really looks startling. I’m with ceplik– I think you should give it a try and let the rest of us know what it’s like!

  • http://www.planetmole.org Barrie

    My wife is from Java and is forever doing Kerokan on me everytime I get a sniffle or some other ailment. I must admit that at first I was sceptical but it DOES work!. Of course you walk around with massive red marks on your back and look like a tiger for a few days but who cares as long as the heallng is done. Makes great tattoo’s on other parts of your body as well!.

  • Brandon

    Riza – thanks for that link – the pics are definitely descriptive of what I see here!

  • Brandon

    Emi – If it’s anything like the massages I get, I’m sure it’s a bit painful. ;)

  • Brandon

    Laletijo – you may be on the right track – maybe the oil and rubbing motion are enough to help release toxins within the muscles?

  • Brandon

    Ceplik – as much fun as the flu was, I don’t think I’ll be praying for it to happen again anytime soon. I’ll take your word for it.

  • Brandon

    Alicia – I’m sure they offer that service in Jamu – you’re a much more likely candidate for that. Give it a whirl and let me know how it feels.

    The only kind of ‘alternative’ healing I take part in would be massage. Those ladies I call up will do a 2 hour massage for $5. (before tip) – and there’s never the uncomfortable ‘extra’ offers that some shady places offer. ;)

  • Brandon

    Barrie – Finally a bule who’s tried it!

    I can’t imagine doing that on other, more sensitive parts of the body – I thought it was only on the back?

  • http://www.planetmole.org Barrie

    Brandon,

    Yeah, well I’ve never had it done on that part of my body but just about everywhere else. My wife uses Minyak Cina and an Old Chinese coin. Whether it has something to do with the heat of the oil or something that is in the coin, I really couldn’t say. What I do know is that it hurts like hell when having it done, but after, pure bliss!

  • http://spaces.msn.com/members/balitraveller/ Juergen

    well, that´s a thing of beliefing or not. I got an coin rubbing massage in Bali a few years ago, does´nt hurt,felt myself after that not better or worse as an “normal” Bali massage (20.000.- Rp)

    It´s like a test i read about some days ago, 1 take a medicine, the other one a placebo, and both worked.

    There are lots fof things between heaven and earth that we don´t understand.

    Yesterday i got a call from my friend from east Java.She told me, that she is worried about black magic. She got a bad experience with an other inonesian and now she beliefe that he can use a black magic to hurt her.She told me it´s like voodoo.It seems indosesian beliefe in those tings.

    I don´t beliefe in it, but this is an other discussion.

    Greetings from Germany

    Juergen

  • nad

    i miss my mother… no one does it bettter. it’s more than just healing, brandon. i agree with ng…wait…alicia. it’s worth trying!

  • Dave

    I often have kerokan; it is very soothing and doesn’t hurt at all surprisingly, and leaves deep red whip marks for a week. It’s fun to strut around the pool at Shangri-La and see the horrified looks from the other bule – if asked, I mention that I just got back from the kantor polisi after forgetting to pay my bar bill…

  • http://chiaroscuro.baltiblogs.com chiaroscuro

    I’m a fairly skeptical person, with a scientific background. My mother used to do this coin thing on me when I was a kid, and to date it’s the only thing I’ve ever found effective on my migraine headaches. I doubt there’s been any research done on it, but it would be interesting to learn why it works. I like your guess about endorphin release, but I also think muscle relaxation is a strong component. The pain relief you experience afterwards can be very striking, though short-lived.

    Anyway, western society has had its own share of controversial practices in this century, like the lobotomy. *Shiver* Coin rubbing may look primitive, but at least it’s harmless. :)

  • Stephanie

    This does work. I was in Taipei for a Chinese-speaking conference and I know the Lord put me in the right place at the right time. When I went to Taiwan, a sister from church had her doctor treat me. I have a long history of medical disorders, beginning with low thyroid, low blood pressure, low body temperature, low metabolism (I’m 225 lbs), physical abuse for more than 2/3 of my life, and a car accident left my back in bad shape. Not much works in my body as I never wanted to live to 55. When Salina had me see her doctor I was expecting a foot massage, not a coin. I held on for dear life as it hurt. But the locked muscles in my neck and upper back relaxed, I slept like a baby on the plane, my energy level is up and I’m exercising. This practice is part of a whole picture, as I was taught to do a few more things. But it does work and I’m sorry I didn’t stay for 3 additional days as the doctor invited me. He said he could turn my condition around with three more days. I didn’t think that possible, I came back to the USA. So I’m saving for my return trip to the doctor to finish the treatment. I am so encouraged, I am trusting the Lord I have enough energy to come down in size and exercise until I get back to Taipei. If anyone wants the name of a good doctor, you can refer them to my email address.

  • Dr. Waheguru Khalsa

    Coin rubbing and more.

    I’m a chiropractor in Los Angeles, in practice for 30 years. For the last 7 years I have been helping patients with ‘coin rubbing’, ‘scraping,’ or in Chinese ‘gua sha.’
    It is one powerful treatment. As a practitioner, I like to use techniques in my office that help patients feel better, recover from pain&injury, prevent colds and flu, get out of chronic pain.

    Gua sha (kerokan) works wonders. The testimonials on this blog are enough to point to the truth about this treatment. Including how ugly, horrifying the red rash is on some folks. And how painful the treatment is on other folks.

    In traditional chinese medicine the red rash that can appear is the manifestation of blood stagnation. I will say from my clinic experience with many patients that there are a small number of people that have no ‘sha.’ Sha means rash, or bumplies (little skin bumps, or raised areas) in Chinese. These people with no red areas just have pink skin similar to a sunburn which goes away inl 30 minutes to a few hours.

    When the red rash appears it takes 3 to 8 days to disappear, depending on how well the superficial blood circulation is in the patient.

    The darker red the rash is– the longer the stagnation has been present. Deep red/purple skin color at the time of massage indicates blood stagnation with excess heat in the blood mixed with other toxins.

    It’s no wonder the woman who has the treatment feels blissful when it’s over.

    When a patient has a moderate to severe amount of rash, I always recommend follow up visits. Kerokan on a second visit (after the redness is gone completely) brings up more blood stagnation (commonly less quantity than the first time). What is the goal in following up, you ask?

    It’s to get rid of hidden, undiagnosed blood stagnation so that the small blood vessels that carry blood to the muscles can do their job BETTER. In oriental medicine it is one of bloods’ jobs to NOURISH muscles. When there is stagnant blood, muscles get tight, or cramp/spasm, and the skin (surface of body) becomes congested.

    The skin is part of the immune system in Traditional Chinese Medicine. It protects the body from external invasion. Colds and flu come from wind cold, wind heat, even wind damp attacking the skin surface. A man withou weak immune system (congested skin surface) may allows entrance of that chilly wind to the capillaries on the neck and arms. Then he wonders why his throat is sore 24 hours later. Then his nose begins to run….

    I use gua sha tools to massage the skin and muscles. One is wooden with smooth curved surfaces, the other is made from buffalo horn. I even use a round bottle cap with smooth edges which allows me to press with my thumb on the cap into the skin&muscle tissue as I slide down to the lower areas.

    Great for sports injury to the neck, whiplash injury (car acidents), chronic neck pain, headache syndromes of many kinds including migraines, shoulder problems, carpal tunnel (wrist hand, finger pain, tingling), lung infections, chronic coughs (gotta do the upper back, shoulder blades in the region that has lung nerve supply), Low back pain, sciatica (hip/buttock, leg pain) and many more.

    Peace and keep exploring what kerokan can do for your Health.

    Dr. Wah

  • Mira

    From an Indonesian point of view, I’ve always been told that kerokan lets the wind out (hence heals masuk angin). Basically this means that we get air bubbles in our body and if they’re stuck in some place they can cause discomfort, and at worst, a flu, cold and fever. By doing kerokan, you’re opening up the pores, hence letting the air bubbles out and letting the blood flow better, and you feel better :)

    I didn’t use to like this method because I thought it hurts like hell, but it’s a matter of having the right person to do it (has something to do with how the person holds the coin). And yep, it really does work ;)

  • Rufino Villarreal

    I was married to a Vietnamese woman a couple years ago. She did Gua Sha and I often administered it. One day we got in an argument and she called the police. The police arrested me for domestic abuse. I pled not quilty because I did not hit or assault her in any manner. At the trial the prosecutor brought out pictures of the Gua Sha marks. Of course they were not injuries but the prosecutor showed the marks to the jury and they convicted me. I told my lawyer the marks were from Gua Sha and he gave me a blank stare. I tried to explain it to him but I think he thought I made those marks. I have been trying to remedy this problem for close to three years now. Any suggestions? I have had trouble obtaining employment and have been subjected to supervised visits from her lying about me assaulting her. Thanks for your attention to this. Rufino Villarreal (402) 813-9253

  • christine

    Hey Rufino, whether you’re a good guy or not, it’s not my place, but if you’d look up more info regarding ‘cao gio’, this is the Vietnamese phrase for coin rubbing, maybe you’d find more information. Better yet, have your attorney do the research. That’s what he’s paid for right?

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  • shanti

    kerokan will NOT hurt if you really are sick (you have blood stagnation, cold feet, migraine, or gastritis). But it will hurt your skin if you’re not really sick but you still do “kerokan” anyway.

  • Jenna

    Yesterday i had kerokan by my maid, because i tend to have stiffed in my neck and shoulder as a symptom towards having migraine. It’s really helpful for me, made me feel relaxed and fresh in the next day. Try some, you’ll get addicted to it. It opens nerves tubes so that blood can flow smoothly. It’s NOT sort of black magic.

    For Juergen, yes the thing which your East Javanese friend got was black magic. It’s done via some seen materials and carried by an unseen media which is called Gene (Jin). Only people who has strong faith who can avoid / reject this black magic, no one is greater than God.

    Tschau!
    Jenna aus Java

  • http://www.furiousphotographers.com Lawrence the photographer

    Haha I love the misunderstanding with the little girl and school administrators. It happened to me once, but my parents used a different technique with similar results. Good times! =P

  • http://dianaidana.multiply.com Diana

    Woa, this finally give me explanation of “Kerokan”. I am a fans of Kerokan, and, I had been wondering too of the mechanism between “Kerokan” and healing. But one thing I can tell you that “Kerokan” is one of the magical treatment.

  • Joseph Schmoe…

    Rufino A. Villarreal: It seems to me that you are a lawyer (although, it seems you’ve been disbarred for numerous violations of ethics codes, including immigration related matters http://149.101.225.20/eoir/press/04/AttyDiscJul04.htm ).

    Since you are a lawyer (sort of, or at least you were one until you were maybe forced out), why didn’t you know to get a copy of those pictures AHEAD of the trial, during the discovery phase? In discovery you are supposed to get a copy of all the other side’s exhibits. Sounds pretty fishy, your claim that they somehow “sprung this on you”. You simply have to have known they’d be talking about the scars.

    Since you are (ok, perhaps *were*) a lawyer, and since you KNEW they were going to ask you about the marks … Why didn’t you get anyone to come in and explain what the marks are? I mean, when you’re in a case like this, and you get your discovery packet, and it has pictures of bruises … what kind of fool would ever go in without a ton of documentary evidence and expert opinion? (The kind of fool who gets disbarred?)

    And you showed your lawyer the marks, and *HE* didn’t believe you, either? Fo’ real? Damn. I’d think you might be able to show your own lawyer enough information, that he’d *try* to believe you.

    So, you’re an immigration attorney, or so you used to be. So, you sued your mail order bride because she doesn’t “wuv” you anymore. Oh, I forgot, it seems from this posting ( http://www.noinvaders.org/article_displayer.php?id=64 ) that she takes the commonly prescribed anti-inflamatory medication “Prednisone”. So you sued her for that, too.

    Because she takes Prednisone (What’s she got? A little arthritis?) you think she should be … deported. Seriously? You sound amazing.

    It’s not that I don’t believe you.

    OK … OK … maybe it *IS* precisely that. Maybe I just don’t believe you.

    You just don’t seem all that credible. Disbarred on ethics charges. Issuing personal Writs of Mandamus to *order* USCIS/BICE to obey your commands (Seriously? Where’d you go to school?). Forbidden from practicing in Immigration Court.

    … And railroading this girl, trying to force her back to a 3rd world country through immigration laws, because she doesn’t “wuv” you anymore (oh, and she suffers from mild joint pain).

    Time to just move on, buddy.

  • Joseph Schmoe…
  • Liz

    I have to say, as a white American womsn married into a traditional
    vietnamese family, I was a bit off-put by the coin rubbing and, yes, as painful as it is, you feel a whole lot better afterward.

    I grew up in a Polish household where, when I was sick and especially if I had a bad cough, my mother would give me ginger brandy, which could be considered child abuse, but ask any pharmacist: it works suppressing the cough. Every family has their own ways I guess.

  • ginnnn

    There's no english word enough to explain it. So they say (and fascinatingly accurate) that when human skin is exposed to cold air, human body will have 'excessive air; – enough to be clots in body's circulation. My mother never tells me what circulation it is, specifically. I'd like to believe it's energy circulation, otherwise calls for bigger bills instead, no?

    It works is by scraping the coin through the hallow space between your bones, your skin must be lubricated by balsam. I suppose regular massage oil won't do. Must be heated massage oil? We call it balsam anyway. And I put lubricated because scraping your skin is painful. It's not stingy as some people who never tried it said, it's simply painful. It will create welts of red bumps. Tiny-tiny red bumps. When it's blood red, then it's cold air. When it's chili red, then it's cold air and your body is heaty. Heaty is another story.

    If you have aches in your back and feeling dizzy or warm for no reason whatsoever, think back, maybe you have been exposed to cold air. It can be very uncomfortable, medical people call it 'cold'. Coining will miraculously take that cold away from you. I'm not sure how it works. But the red welts will be gone in a few days, unlike bruises.

    The origin of coining is not known by me. Yet it came down to me from my mother's side. Although my mother is a straits Chinese, she is peranakan (nyonya) by culture. I believe if you understand everything I wrote, kerokan is a piece of cake.

  • Damien

    Hi there, i had the coin rubbing done to me last night, im white but my girlfriend is cambodian, they use this all the time when they are sick, last night i had a really bad temperature and i had the coin rubbing done, today i am 90% better with no medication, they tell me when you rub the coin it opens your pores and releases the poison from your body. This isnt the first time ive had it done, i will always do the coin rubbing first before i will go to the doctors for antibiotics.

    It does leave really big purple marks on your back, i always take photo`s after haha, it looks like it hurts but it dosnt hurt at all, except for the rubbing part haha

  • Damien

    Hi there, i had the coin rubbing done to me last night, im white but my girlfriend is cambodian, they use this all the time when they are sick, last night i had a really bad temperature and i had the coin rubbing done, today i am 90% better with no medication, they tell me when you rub the coin it opens your pores and releases the poison from your body. This isnt the first time ive had it done, i will always do the coin rubbing first before i will go to the doctors for antibiotics.

    It does leave really big purple marks on your back, i always take photo`s after haha, it looks like it hurts but it dosnt hurt at all, except for the rubbing part haha

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