If you have ever looked into or been treated with Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM, you might be familiar with moxibustion. This type of therapy involves burning a moxa, a cigar or cone made of powerful medicinal herbs, near or on the skin close to acupressure points. The healing practice is used to help people who haven’t been successful in treating their ailments with other therapies.
Moxibustion has been practiced in parallel with acupuncture for hundreds of years. In fact, the Chinese term for “acupuncture” means “to prick and burn.” Therefore, many believe that a comprehensive acupuncture therapy session should involve moxibustion.
Understanding Moxibustion Therapy Benefits From A Western Perspective
In TCM, practitioners believe that all ailments arise from a problem with the flow of qi, or vital energy. When your system is in harmony, your qi can flow freely, and you remain in good health. When one aspect of your system is disturbed, it can create a ripple effect, disrupting your qi and bringing about a multitude of symptoms.
Whereas many practitioners of western medicine prescribe treatments for the symptoms themselves, the philosophy behind TCM goes deeper to look at the cause of the disharmony.
Because moxibustion uses heat, it is often used to treat disharmony associated with yin energy, which is cold energy. From a western perspective, problems associated with stagnant yin energy include:
- Slow thyroid
- Low blood sugar
- Sluggish metabolism and digestion
- Cold sensitivity
- Joint pain
- Reduced immunity
- Depression and lethargy
According to published evidence, moxibustion can be used to treat more than 350 different diseases. It is most commonly used for:
- Repositioning breech babies
- Urinary incontinence
- Painful menstruation
- Heel pain
Moxibustion Improves Blood Circulation
Moxibustion warms up the body. This, in turn, promotes circulation in the bloodstream. The act of applying infrared energy near certain points stimulates the release of chemicals that can then be carried throughout the body through the blood.
It also allows for optimal functioning of cells and enzymes. As your cells’ metabolism becomes energized, your body’s neurological and immune functions improve.
Applying heat to any part of the body boosts circulation. However, the ingredients used in moxa herbs are believed to enhance the flow of qi through the body.
Moxibustion Offers Antioxidant Properties
The herbs used for moxibustion have their own benefits. The combustion of the herbs enhances their active ingredients. The volatile oils in the plants may act as an expectorant and relieve cough. They also have strong antioxidant activity.
Moxibustion Reduces Digestive Distress
Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common digestive ailments. Although the specific diagnosis was not invented hundreds of years ago, symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, such as diarrhea and constipation, are described in ancient Chinese medical texts.
Studies have confirmed that moxibustion therapy benefits people who suffer from IBS. Trials have found that using moxibustion on the acupoints ST25, ST36 and ST37 is effective for relieving symptoms of this condition.
Scientists aren’t sure why it works. The acupressure points that are involved can modify the function of the large intestine, stomach and spleen. Also, moxibustion can control the concentration of certain hormones and chemicals that are responsible for the transmission of abdominal pain sensations in the central nervous system.
One study looked at the effects of acupuncture and moxibustion in treating Crohn’s disease. The researchers found therapeutic benefits.
Other researchers have studied moxibustion therapy benefits for reducing the incidence of nausea and vomiting in patients undergoing chemotherapy. Moxibustion applied to the ST36 or P6 points can also relieve nausea and vomiting after surgery.
Moxibustion Can Treat Arthritis
Moxibustion has been widely used to treat osteoarthritis. Applying it to the ST35, EX-LE4 and Ashi points can effectively reduce pain and improve function. In one study, participants experienced the beneficial effects for up to 18 weeks after a six-week course of moxibustion.
Moxibustion Can Be Effective For Colds And Flu
When using moxibustion on the Governing Vessel 14, you can improve overall immunity. This will induce perspiration, which in TCM is considered to be the primary way to remove pathogens from the body. Supporting the flow of qi can also keep you healthy and prevent you from getting sick in the first place.
Moxibustion May Help Turn Breech Babies
Approximately 4 percent of pregnant women find that their babies are in a breech position at birth. This means that their bottoms or feet are entering the pelvis before the head. Many hospitals won’t perform a vaginal delivery for a breech baby, and many mothers hope to avoid a cesarean section.
Moxibustion has been used for centuries to help turn breech babies in utero. The heat that’s emitted close to certain receptors on the feet may encourage the release of pregnancy hormones that can stimulate the uterus to contract. Those contractions could promote movement in the infant, helping the baby shift to the optimal head-down position for birth.
Researchers have found that using moxibustion around the 33rd week of pregnancy for a week or two can increase fetal activity and decrease the incidence of breech presentation at birth.
Moxibustion Is Safe
No form of medical treatment is without side effects. In fact, most common drugs can cause adverse reactions.
Moxibustion is generally regarded as safe. Some side effects from moxibustion may include:
- Nausea from sensitivity to the scent
Burns are most likely to occur in patients with sensory issues that prevent them from feeling the heat. They can also happen in infants, who can’t communicate when the sensation is becoming too warm. This adverse effect, as well as infection, is usually caused by inexperienced practitioners or individuals who attempt to perform moxibustion on themselves.
It is important to understand when moxibustion should be avoided. For example, ancient Chinese literature states that this therapy should not be used on thin skin, near the organs or on certain points.
However, experts agree that the benefits of moxibustion greatly outweigh the risks.