Oriental Medicine: Moxibustion

MoxibustionMoxibustion (also called “Moxa”) is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of a dried herb, Mugwort, to promote healing. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years. In fact, the Chinese character for “Acupuncture” when translated literally means “Acupuncture-Moxibustion.” The purpose of Moxibustion is to balance disharmonies, stimulate the flow of Qi, and maintain and promote optimal health.

There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. In the United States, direct moxibustion is occasionally used, though indirect moxibustion is more common. With indirect moxibustion, an acupuncturist lights the moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, and holds it close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area turns light red, and a pleasant warming sensation is felt by the patient.

What is Moxibustion used for?

Moxibustion therapy is used for people who have a cold or stagnant condition as diagnosed in Oriental Medicine. The burning of moxa is used to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of Qi and blood.

In Western medicine, moxibustion has been successfully 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 with breech presentation babies, and who received moxibustion at a specific point on the Bladder meridian, had their babies rotate to the normal position.

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.

Why do acupuncturists use mugwort?

Mugwort, also known as Artemisia vulgaris, or “Ai Ye” in Chinese, has a long history of use in folk medicine. Research has shown that it acts as an agent that increases blood circulation to the pelvic area and uterus and stimulates menstruation. This could explain its use in treating breech births and menstrual cramps. This herb is also unique in the Pharmacopeia of Traditional Chinese Medicine, in that it is the only herb said to go to all twelve major acupuncture meridians or channels.

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 pronounced heat symptoms. Burning moxa also produces a pungent odor, and some smoke. Patients with respiratory problems may request that their practitioner use smokeless moxa sticks as an alternative.

Who can perform Moxibustion?

Moxibustion is usually taught as part of a qualified acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine degree program. Although there are no licensing or accreditation requirements associated with the practice of moxibustion, in the United States, a practitioner must have an acupuncture license to be allowed to perform moxibustion. In Oregon, moxibustion is specifically included in the scope of practice for Licensed Acupuncturists, according to state statute.