Moxibustion is a Traditional Chinese Medicine technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb, to facilitate healing.
How does Moxibustion work?
Moxibustion is the process of heating moxa wool, or Mugwort, onto or in close proximity to the body. The points used are the same points used as in acupuncture. Traditional Chinese Medicine states that the heat of the burning moxa opens the acupoints and the smoke enters the channels and brings the body into balance. Moxibustion brings the autonomic nervous system back on line so that it can restore the body to homeostasis.
Mugwort, also known as artemesia vulgaris (ai ye in Chinese), has a long history of use in folk medicine. Research has shown that it acts as an emmenagogue—that is, an agent that increases blood. It is interesting to note that Moxa, artemisia mugwort, is in the same family as sage, used by Native Americans to purify spaces and people.
How is Moxibustion performed?
There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect.
In direct moxibustion, a small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acupoint and burned. This type of moxibustion is further categorized into two types: scarring and non-scarring. With scarring moxibustion, the moxa is placed on a point, ignited, and allowed to remain onto the point until it burns out completely. This may lead to localized scarring, blisters and scarring after healing.
With non-scarring moxibustion, the moxa is placed on the point and lit, but is extinguished or removed before it burns the skin. The patient will experience a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates deep into the skin, but should not experience any pain, blistering or scarring unless the moxa is left in place for too long.
Indirect moxibustion is currently the more popular form of care because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. When moxibustion is used as a form of treatment, I always use Indirect Moxibustion. In indirect moxibustion, one end of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, is lit and held close to the acupoint for several minutes until the area is warmed.
Another form of indirect moxibustion uses both acupuncture needles and moxa. A needle is inserted into an acupoint and retained. The tip of the needle is then wrapped in moxa and ignited, generating heat to the point and the surrounding area. After the desired effect is achieved, the moxa is extinguished and the needle(s) removed.
When is Moxibustion used as treatment?
In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion is used on people who have a cold or stagnant condition. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of blood and Qi.
In Western medicine, moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth. A landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had fetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxibustion at an appropriate acupoint. Other studies have shown that moxibustion increases the movement of the fetus in pregnant women, and may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps when used in conjunction with traditional acupuncture.
Are there any precautions I should be aware of?
Although moxibustion has been safely used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries, it is not for everyone. Because it is used specifically for patients suffering from cold or stagnant constitutions, it should not be used on anyone diagnosed with too much heat. Burning moxa also produces a great deal of smoke and a pungent odor. Patients with respiratory problems may request that their practitioner use smokeless moxa sticks as an alternative.
Is Moxibustion right for me?
After taking a thorough health history and discussing the details of your condition, your acupuncturist will determine if Moxibustion is a viable treatment option for you.