Moxibustion: Definition, Therapy Styles, and Benefits

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a lot to offer when it comes to treatments and therapies. Apart from acupuncture and Chinese herbs, which both have healing effects, TCM includes moxibustion, one of the most common forms of heat therapy we know today.

Moxibustion can be performed as either standalone or integrative therapy. It’s known for the use of wooden sticks and dried mugwort (moxa), which is applied to the particular parts of a patient’s skin in order to bring them certain improvements and establish well-being. Moxibustion therapy is widely used across the United States, and it’s often combined with acupuncture in order to deliver better and long-lasting results. The following post will provide further explanations about the entire idea, its benefits, and conditions it can treat with success.

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What is Moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a form of heat therapy in which the practitioner uses dried leaves of a plant called moxa and burns them on, or very near the surface of a patient’s skin using moxibustion sticks made of wood.

The primary objective of moxibustion is to release the flow of Qi (Chee) in the body and help patients retrieve their energy and get rid of the pain they consistently feel.

What is moxa?

Moxa herb is a collective term that encompasses a group of herbs used for moxibustion therapy. It’s mostly made of mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), but other herbs and substances can be added, as well.

Why Mugwort?

Mugwort is believed to be efficient in treating many conditions, and it has a long history of use in folk medicine. It is used mostly because of its acrid and spicy odor, which is able to travel through all the meridians in the human body, regulate blood flow, and bring analgesic effects.

This herb is a member of the daisy family, and it is native in Asia and Europe. Its smell is quite specific, and many claim that it resembles the cannabis smell, which is why it might not be safe to use it at home – it might cause misunderstandings with neighbors and law enforcement.

Mugwort has been used in China for more than 3.000 years, primarily because it has shown great results in strengthening and warming blood and life energy, as well as in treating inflammations and cancers.

New herbal practices in Europe and America have shown that mugwort has positive impacts on treating stomach and intestinal problems such as colic, gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Additionally, it can reduce the symptoms of headaches, nosebleeds, chills, fever, insomnia, and nerve problems.

When to Avoid Mugwort?

Before you start your moxibustion treatment, consult your practitioner, and tell him or her whether you have allergic reactions to certain fruit or substances. Namely, you might not react well to mugwort if you have allergies to peaches, carrots, apples, celery, or sunflowers.

Allergic reactions to mugwort may cause sneezing, sinus-related symptoms, and even dermatitis and rashes.

What is Moxibustion Therapy Used for?

Moxibustion can be used for various purposes – to prevent the onset of certain diseases, to strengthen organs and the immune system, or eliminate the pain caused by different factors.

Practitioners tend to combine it with acupuncture since they believe that the therapies can increase each other’s efficacy when used together. That said, moxibustion can be used for improving the symptoms provoked by the following conditions:

  • Arthritis
  • Back pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Digestive problems

How Does Moxibustion Work?

When patients hear that moxibustion involves the burning of the leaves near their skin, they’re often intimidated by the entire procedure. However, this therapy is entirely safe and painless.

First, let’s mention the two types of moxibustion – direct and indirect. In the first method (direct moxa), the practitioner places dried herb directly to the skin and lights it to provoke a more focused heat. They often use lotion as a barrier that protects the skin from getting burnt.

As for the second technique (indirect moxa), the practitioner uses a stick pole to press the leaf, which he or she later lights and places above the surface of the skin to create a gentle warmth.

Both techniques are equally effective, and they can be combined with salt, ginger, or other substances that could enhance the overall therapeutic effect.

How is Moxibustion Classified?

According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, moxibustion can be divided into three main categories – traditional moxibustion, drug moxibustion, and modern moxibustion.

  1. Traditional moxibustion is commonly used in the ancient and contemporary clinics, and practitioners use both direct and indirect technique when performing it. They often use garlic, salt, ginger, aconite, and other substances to achieve better therapeutic effects.
  2. Drug moxibustion is also known as nature moxibustion, and it often uses irritant drugs such as cantharis, garlic, and semen sinapis. These drugs are primarily used to coat the surface of moxibustion points and make local skin blistered.
  3. Modern moxibustion includes a microwave, laser, and electrothermal moxibustion. The three methods are used to stimulate the points by physical or chemical tools in order to boost the therapeutic effects of moxa treatment.

What are the Major Moxibustion Benefits?

The benefits of moxibustion are numerous, which is why its practice has spread a lot during the last couple of years. Some of the advantages we should point are:

  • Pain management: Moxa can help people who’re suffering from different types of pain since it improves circulation and brings blood and lymph to particular areas of the body, reducing pain and inflammation.
  • Decreases healing time of injuries: By improving the blood flow and bringing it to areas of the body that are in pain or injured, healing times will be reduced, and a person will notice improved mobility.
  • Mitigates arthritic pain: The severity of arthritic pain can cause almost unbearable discomfort, and moxibustion can significantly reduce it. Namely, the warmth has positive effects on the pain.
  • Improving migraines and headaches: Migraines and headaches can be successfully handled with moxibustion. Namely, this type of heating therapy can reduce the duration and intensity of migraines and terrible headaches.
  • Improves gynecological problems: When performed on specific body points, moxa therapy can alleviate the symptoms associated with the menstrual cycle, such as intense pain.
  • Enhances the immune system: Some researches have shown that moxa has a positive impact on boosting the immune system, making it less prone to viruses and shortening the duration of colds. It increases the number of white blood cells almost right after the treatment.
  • Brings improvements to digestive issues: Moxa treatment is efficient for reducing abdominal pain and diarrhea. Such conditions are usually treated with a combination of moxa, salt, and ginger.

Due to its highly efficient impact on a person’s overall health, moxibustion is sometimes practiced daily in China and Japan. In such situations, the stimulated acupuncture point is Stomach 36, located one hand-width below the kneecap within the depression on the lateral side of the bone.

By stimulating such a point, practitioners believe that one’s vitality and longevity will be increased and enhanced.

Is Moxibustion Treatment Safe?

Moxibustion is quite a safe therapy, especially when performed by a certified practitioner. It’s worth trying if you want to explore some alternative methods of healing, but either way, you should be aware of potential risks.

One of the biggest risks is skin burns, which usually occurs during direct moxa therapy. Therefore, it’s recommended to go for the indirect one, especially if you’re performing it by yourself.

Other potential moxibustion side effects may include:

  • Allergic reactions
  • A sore throat caused by coughing from moxa smoke
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark patches on the skin

It’s vital to warn your practitioner about your potential conditions or allergies before you start with the treatment. That way, you will prevent possible inconveniences and adverse effects of the therapy.

Acupuncture and Moxibustion: How Does That Work?

Thanks to the positive effects of both moxibustion and acupuncture, practitioners tend to combine them and use them as an integrative approach for treating different conditions. They are often used together since such a combo is believed to improve the body’s balance and maintain a person’s overall health and well-being.

Moxibustion acupuncture is a form of indirect moxibustion method, which is based on the use of both acupuncture needles and moxa. A small, thin, and sterile needle is inserted into a specific acupoint and retained there. The tip of the needle is then wrapped in moxa, which creates heat in the point and surrounding area.

The needle will remain in the patient’s skin until he or she starts to feel relief. Moxa will be later extinguished, and the needle is taken out.

Moxa acupuncture has provided remarkable results in treating inflammatory diseases, reducing pain due to frozen shoulder, tendonitis, sciatica, or fibromyalgia, as well as in improving a person’s quality of life.

The combination of Chinese acupuncture and moxibustion will eliminate the weakness and the sense of fatigue, and that way, prevent the onset of different conditions that arise from it.