Moxibustion is a technique that involves burning a plant called mugwort on acupuncture points.
Mugwort is a warm herb by nature and applying it to specific acupuncture points can help promote circulation and warm or nourish the point, thereby increasing its qi. Acupuncture and moxibustion are considered complimentary forms of treatment and are commonly used together. Moxibustion is used for conditions such as fatigue, cold limbs, frequent illness, and certain types of pain.
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 acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian.
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 acupuncture point 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. In indirect moxibustion, a practitioner lights one end of a 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 red. 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.