To understand how moxibustion works, it is helpful to first visualize the body’s meridians or the energy pathways that underlie TCM. These canals – which connect the various organs with points on the hands and feet – were founded thousands of years ago, before 168 BC, according to an ancient Chinese medical text. And encouraging the free and open flow of qi (also known as energy) along them was thought to promote healing and resolve diseases and disorders.
Also in this text, The Ancient Medical Relics of Matvangdui, is what is considered the first report of a moxa or moxibustion treatment, in which a practitioner burns a version of the dried mugwort herb on or near certain points of the meridian along the body to encourage this flow of qi (more on that later). below). And it was only several years later, during the Western Han Dynasty, that acupuncture first appeared in a medical text as a way of manipulating these same spots with tiny needles. Today, moxibustion practices typically combine elements of these two therapies for a better TCM approach to both.
Reasons to consider a moxibustion treatment
Unlike the modern treatments of Western medicine, which are typically formulated as one-to-one solutions to ailments, TCM therapeutic techniques, including moxibustion, work on whole-body systems. As a result, they can play a role in helping with a variety of problems, offering a wide range of benefits that depend mainly on the recipient.
Because acupuncture is a key component of moxibustion therapy today, it is worth noting that people can turn to moxibustion for any of the proven benefits of acupuncture, including its ability to minimize chronic pain (based on a analysis of 39 2017 trials for non specific musculoskeletal pain, osteoarthritis, chronic headache and shoulder pain), as well as reduction of menstrual pain and improves sleep quality.
“Acupuncture and moxa, together, further promote the normal response to increased circulation.” —Acupuncturist Sian James, LAc, DACM
But the unique practice of moxibustion can enhance some of these benefits that you could only get from acupuncture. “Combining moxa with acupuncture works synergistically,” says Sian James, DACM, LAc, chief acupuncturist at Ora, a New York-based acupuncture studio. “Acupuncture and moxa together [can] further promote the normal response to increased traffic “. And, in turn, this improved blood flow can reduce inflammation and enhance your range of motion and flexibility, which can help with chronic muscle and joint pain, adds Dr. James.
Research supports it: A 2017 review of studies analyzing the effectiveness of moxibustion for osteoarthritis of the knee suggests it may help reduce both pain and symptom management, while a separate 2020 review found that moxibustion may help in the relief of compression and swelling of the nerve roots usually associated with chronic lower back pain.
Similarly, the circulatory-enhancing effect of rodenticide may offer some pain relief benefits to those who have menstruation. “Moxa works to direct blood flow to the uterus, which can help soothe severe cramps,” says acupuncturist and botanist Giselle Wasfie, DACM, LAc, founder of Remix Lifestyle, an acupuncture studio based Chicago. And a small 2015 study of the effectiveness of moxibustion in treating cramps in 56 nursing students also showed this pain-reducing effect. “Burning moxa also has an external benefit through its scent, which is slightly sweet and herbal and can be very soothing to the spirit, naturally opening the heart,” adds Dr. Wasfie.
In the gynecological field, moxibustion is also often used as part of a treatment for infertility, as it is often associated in TCM with coldness in the uterus, where moxa can provide the necessary warmth, says Dr. Wasfie. In fact, a small 2018 study of 40 people trying to conceive found that moxinavia can actually increase endometrial thickness and, in turn, help effectively implant an embryo. Even so, owning one is still beyond the reach of the average person, especially if you are pregnant, especially if you are pregnant.
What to expect from a moxibustion treatment
First of all, do not worry about your skin burning from the smoke that smokes. Although there are traditional methods of immediate inflammation that involve the burning herb mugwort actually touching the skin, the most common moxibustion practices performed today are indirect, which began to develop in China as early as the 10th century. These indirect practices merely involve a buffer of some kind between the skin and the burning herb, and can take a variety of different forms.
Usually, a professional will wrap the dried mugwort herb in a roll that looks a lot like a cigar, light it and hold it just above a specific acupuncture point, says Dr. James. “Alternatively, the moxa can also be wrapped in rice-sized shapes or slightly larger in the shape of a cotton ball and placed over acupuncture needles after they have been inserted,” says Dr. James. “The needles are then heated, allowing the moxa to burn and penetrate the canal.”
Another approach? Start with acupuncture and then follow with moxa. After injecting into a patient, Dr. Wasfie often places smaller moxa sticks over the burn gel (for extra protection). To cover larger areas, he will use a moxa box, which includes heating the loose moxa in a small box placed on the skin, so that the warmth is felt but indirect, in order to avoid burning.
As for exactly where moxa is applied to the body, this is determined by a comprehensive discussion about taking it with your doctor at TCM, similar to the conversation you would have before an acupuncture treatment. They will reduce your symptoms, assess which meridian points could be most effective in targeting, and ensure that you do not have pre-existing conditions for which the infection may be contraindicated, such as a respiratory condition that could aggravated by smoke or an open wound that should not be exposed to the flaming moxa, says Dr. James. (At this stage, it is a smart idea to disclose any medical conditions and medications you are taking to ensure a completely safe treatment.)
How to find a professional you can trust for moxibustion
As with any healthcare professional, finding a licensed, experienced TCM professional who applies all the regular hygiene measures (such as sterilizing needles and washing hands between patients) is essential to getting a useful and safe moxibustion treatment.
Look for the “LAc” credentials behind your professional name to make sure they are licensed to do acupuncture and therefore have at least three years of postgraduate training under their belt. It is also wise to scroll through their website and check that they are certified by the National Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Certification Committee. Once you find a professional you are interested in seeing, schedule a consultation with them before booking a treatment appointment to make sure they are comfortable with moxa and are familiar with moxibustion for any aches, stiffness or pain you may be feeling.
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