How Moxibustion Is Used in Traditional Chinese Therapy

Dried herbs rolled in paper

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Moxibustion is an alternative therapy that involves burning herbs and applying the heat that's produced to specific points on the body. A technique used in traditional Chinese medicine and in Tibetan medicine, moxibustion can be administered in conjunction with acupuncture, or a stick can be used to apply heat with smokeless moxibustion.

Uses

According to alternative medicine practitioners, the heat generated during moxibustion helps increase the flow of vital energy (also known as "qi" or "chi") throughout the body via certain pathways (known as "meridians").

In traditional Chinese medicine, stimulating the flow of chi is considered essential to achieving health and wellness. In fact, this approach to healthcare is based on the belief that blockages in the flow of chi contribute to physical and mental health problems.

Alternative medicine practitioners often use moxibustion to help treat the following health problems:

What Moxibustion Involves

There are two main types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. Indirect moxibustion is the technique most commonly used today.

Methods of indirect moxibustion include:

  • Burning moxa (a substance created from dried leaves of the herbs mugwort or wormwood) on top of the acupuncture needle
  • The practitioner may set the burning moxa over a layer of ginger, garlic, or salt placed on the patient's skin
  • Applying heat to acupuncture points from an electrical source
  • Holding the burning moxa above the skin for several minutes

During direct moxibustion, the burning moxa is placed directly on the skin. Since this technique can cause pain and scarring, direct moxibustion is no longer used very often.

Benefits

To date, studies have begun examining the safety and effectiveness of moxibustion in the treatment of health conditions. For example, it has been shown to help some types of kidney disease.

Here's a look at some of the evidence related to moxibustion:

1) Hot Flashes

In a 2009 study of 51 postmenopausal women, researchers found that 14 sessions of moxibustion reduced the frequency and severity of hot flashes.

2) Ulcerative Colitis

Available scientific evidence doesn't support the use of moxibustion in the treatment of ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease), according to a research review published in 2010. The review's authors analyzed five clinical trials and determined that moxibustion did show some benefits for people with ulcerative colitis. However, all of the reviewed studies were found to be of low quality.

Additional studies examining the safety and efficacy of moxibustion in the treatment of ulcerative colitis are ongoing.

3) Breech Birth

Moxibustion has been considered a potential way to decrease the risk of breech birth. But in a report published in 2005, scientists found insufficient evidence to support the use of moxibustion in correcting a breech presentation. The report's authors sized up three clinical trials (involving a total of 597 women) and concluded that more research is needed before moxibustion can be recommended to women looking to avoid a breech birth. However, the report did find that moxibustion may reduce the need for certain medical procedures typically used to correct a breech presentation.

Caveats

Oils from mugwort and wormwood may cause toxic reactions when taken internally.

If you're considering the use of moxibustion for any type of health condition, make sure to consult your doctor before undergoing treatment. It's especially important to talk to your doctor if you're considering the use of moxibustion while pregnant.

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Article Sources
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Additional Reading
  • American Cancer Society. "ACS: Moxibustion." November 2008.