To understand how moxibustion works, it is helpful to first imagine the body’s meridians or energy pathways that form the basis of TCM. These channels, which connect the various organs to points on the arms and legs, were established thousands of years ago, before 168 BC. C., according to an ancient Chinese medical text. And encouraging the free and open flow of qi (also known as energy) throughout them was thought to promote healing and resolve illnesses and disorders.
Also in that text, The ancient medical relics of Matvangdui, is what is considered the first mention of a moxa or moxibustion treatment, during which a practitioner burns a version of the dried mugwort herb at or near certain meridian points throughout the body to stimulate the flow of qi ( more on this below). And it was only several years later, during the Western Han dynasty, that acupuncture first appeared in a medical text as a way to manipulate those same points with tiny needles. Today, moxibustion practices often combine elements of these two therapies to achieve the best of both worlds approach to TCM.
Reasons to consider a moxibustion treatment
Unlike modern Western medicine treatments, which are often formulated as individual solutions for ailments, TCM therapeutic techniques, including moxibustion, work on systems throughout the body. As a result, they can play a role in helping a variety of concerns, offering a wide range of benefits that depend primarily on the person receiving them.
Because acupuncture is a key component to moxibustion treatment today, it is worth noting that people may turn to moxibustion for any of acupuncture’s proven benefits, including its potential to minimize chronic pain (based on in a 2017 analysis of 39 trials on nonspecific musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache, and shoulder pain), as well as reducing pain related to menstrual periods and improving sleep quality.
“Acupuncture and moxa, together, further promote the physiological response of increased circulation.” —Acupuncturist Sian James, LAc, DACM
But practicing moxibustion alone can augment some of the benefits you might get from acupuncture alone. “Combining moxa with acupuncture works synergistically,” says Sian James, DACM, LAc, principal acupuncturist at Ora, a New York-based acupuncture studio. “Acupuncture and moxa together [can] further promote the physiological response of increased circulation.” And, in turn, that improved blood flow can decrease inflammation and increase your range of motion and flexibility, which can help with chronic muscle and joint pain, adds Dr. James.
Research backs it up: A 2017 review of studies looking at the effectiveness of moxibustion for osteoarthritis in the knees suggests it may help with both pain reduction and symptom control, while a separate 2020 review found that moxibustion can help relieve nerve root compression and swelling commonly associated with chronic low back pain.
Similarly, the circulation-stimulating effect of moxibustion may offer some pain-relieving benefits to those who have their period. “Moxa works to boost blood flow to the uterus, which can help ease severe menstrual cramps,” says acupuncturist and herbalist Giselle Wasfie, DACM, LAc, founder of Remix Lifestyle, a Chicago-based acupuncture studio. And a small 2015 study of the efficacy of moxibustion for treating cramps in 56 nursing students also demonstrated this pain-reducing effect. “Burning moxa also has an outward benefit through its scent, which is slightly sweet and herbal, and can be very calming to the spirit, naturally opening the heart,” adds Dr. Wasfie.
Within the gynecological setting, moxibustion is also frequently used as part of infertility treatment, as it is often associated in TCM with being cold in the womb, where moxa can provide needed warmth, says Dr. Wasfie. In fact, a small 2018 study of 40 people trying to get pregnant found that moxibustion can actually increase the thickness of the endometrium and, in turn, help with effective implantation of the embryo. But still, it’s worth consulting your OB/GYN before having moxibustion treatment for fertility reasons, especially if there’s a chance you might be pregnant.
What to expect from a moxibustion treatment
First things first, don’t worry about your skin getting burned by the steaming moxa. Although there are traditional direct moxibustion methods that involve burning mugwort herb touching the skin, the most common moxibustion practices performed today are indirect ones, which began to develop in China as early as the 10th century. These indirect practices they simply involve some kind of buffer between the skin and the burned grass, and can take a variety of different forms.
Typically, a practitioner wraps the dried mugwort herb into a roll that looks much like a cigar, lights it, and holds it just above a particular acupuncture point, says Dr. James. “Alternatively, the moxa can also be rolled into shapes the size of rice or the size of a slightly larger cotton ball and placed on top of acupuncture needles after they have been inserted,” says Dr. James. “The needles are then heated, allowing the moxa to burn and penetrate the channel.”
Another approach? Start with acupuncture and then follow with moxa. After pricking a patient, Dr. Wasfie often applies smaller sticks of moxa on top of the anti-burn gel (for added protection). To cover larger areas, he will use a moxa box, which involves heating loose moxa inside a small box placed on the skin so that the heat is felt but indirect, to prevent burning.
As for exactly where the moxa is applied on the body, that is determined through a thorough intake discussion with your TCM doctor, similar to the discussion you would have prior to an acupuncture treatment. They’ll get detailed information about your symptoms, assess which meridian points might be most effective to target, and make sure you don’t have any pre-existing conditions for which moxibustion might be contraindicated, such as a respiratory condition that might be aggravated by smoke or an open wound that shouldn’t be exposed to burning moxa, says Dr. James. (At this stage, it’s a good idea to disclose any medical conditions and medications you take to ensure completely safe treatment.)
How to find a doctor you can trust for moxibustion
As is the case with any healthcare professional, finding an MTC doctor who is licensed, experienced, and practices all regular hygiene measures (such as sterilizing needles and washing hands between patients) is essential to receiving moxibustion treatment. useful and safe.
Look for the “LAc” credentials behind your doctor’s name to ensure that he or she is actually licensed to do acupuncture, and therefore has at least three years of postgraduate training under his belt. It is also wise to scroll through their site and check that they are certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Once you find a professional you are interested in seeing, schedule a consultation with them prior to scheduling a treatment appointment to ensure they are comfortable with moxa and are familiar with moxibustion for any soreness, stiffness, or soreness you may feel.
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