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Moxibustion in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Moxibustion is the method of burning Mugwort (Ai Ye) or other herbs on, around, or above Acupuncture points. The leaves of the Moxa plant, as Mugwort is sometimes called, are usually dried in the sun, finely ground to a texture like wool or cotton, and then sifted until a fine, soft, and light green consistency is obtained. Moxa holds together well, burns evenly, and is relatively inexpensive.

Moxa can be rolled into balls, shaped into cones, or purchased commercially in tiny or long rolls. The balls and cones can be burned directly on the skin, or indirectly on a medium in between the Moxa and the skin. Small balls can also be used on the end of a needle as in the Warm Needle Technique. Tiny pre-rolled Moxa or "Shish" Moxa can be purchased commercially, and is sometimes used on the end of a needle in place of loose Moxa. The longer, eight to ten (8-10) inch Moxa sticks are usually used in a circular or "sparrow pecking" (rapidly moving the burning end close and far from the skin) motion around an Acupuncture point.

Many different types of herbs can be added to both loose Moxa or the commercially available Moxa sticks to alter it's therapeutic properties. Some examples are: Cinnamon (Gui Zhi, Rou Gui), Dried Ginger (Gan Jiang), Cloves (Ding Xiang), Sichuan Pepper (Chuan Jiao), Realgar (Xiong Huang), Angelica Root (Pubescent Du Huo), Asarum (Xi Xin), Angelica Root (Bai Zhi), Atractylodes Rhizone (Cang Zhu), Myrrh (Mo Yao), Frankincense (Ru Xiang)

Direct Moxibustion Methods

There are blister forming and non-blister forming treatments in the direct method, and each has it's own therapeutic properties for a variety of conditions.

Blistering Method (Scarring Method)

In the more intense method, you burn cones up to 1 cm in size completely on the skin, causing not only burning and blistering of the skin, but intense pain as well. After the Moxa has completely burned, a sterile cloth and cold water can be used to clean off the ashes and soothe the skin. This process is usually repeated three to ten (3-10) times. Once a blister has formed, it is important that burn salve or cream is used in conjunction with a light sterile dressing to protect the area and prevent infection.

This method of moxibustion on specific acupuncture points can be used to strengthen the body's immune system, or Wei Qi, thus increasing resistance to disease and the overall health of the body. Ancient Chinese doctors believed that blistering and scarring were the marks of a successful treatment. Due to the risk of infection, pain, and permanent scarring, this method is not widely used.

Indications

  • Asthma
  • Developmental Disorders
  • General Weakness of the Body
  • Chronic Gastrointestinal Disorders

Non-Blistering/Non-Scarring Direct Method

1. With non-scarring moxibustion, Moxa cones are burned directly on the skin, but is removed when the burning starts to cause intense pain, or when the embers come too close to the skin. This usually leaves a small red circular mark on the local area, but no burn.

Indications

  • Deficient Cold That is Mild in Nature

2. Another non-scarring or non-blistering method involves rolling Moxa in to wheat or rice size grains and burning three to seven (3-7) of them directly on the skin. Because they are small in size and quick burning, there is a smaller chance that they will blister or scar the skin.

Indications

  • Blood Deficiency
  • Dizziness
  • Warts

Indirect Moxibustion Methods

Mediums

A common way of administering the therapeutic properties of moxibustion is to use a medium in between the burning Moxa and the skin. Various substances can be used for this purpose, some of which are outlined below.

Ginger (Sheng Jiang)

A thin slice of fresh Ginger, usually one to several millimeters thick, is punched with many small holes, and then placed (as horizontally as possible) on top of specific Acupuncture points. A Moxa cone is then shaped with the fingers and placed in the center of the Ginger and lit. Once the heat too becomes intense, the ginger slice with the burning Moxa should be carefully removed. The process is then started over with a fresh Moxa cone.

Indications

  • Spleen and Stomach Deficiency
  • Diarrhea
  • Cold Abdominal Pain
  • Deficient Cold conditions
  • Pain or Aching in the Joints

Garlic

In this method, a thin slice of fresh Garlic, punched with many small holes, is used on an Acupuncture point or non-ulcerated carbuncle in much the same way as the Ginger method above. Three to Eight (3-8) Moxa cones are usually used, and the slice of Garlic may need to be replaced during the course of the treatment. Blisters can occur due to the properties of Garlic combined with the heat.

Indications

  • Pulmonary Tuberculosis
  • Abdominal Masses
  • Non-Ulcerated Carbuncles

Salt

Salt is poured into the navel until level with the stomach. A slice of Ginger with a Moxa cone on top of it is then placed on the salt. The salt method can also be used alone without the slice of Ginger. This method can be used to restore Yang from collapse.

Indications

  • Acute Abdominal Pain with Vomiting and/or Diarrhea
  • Umbilical Pain
  • Hernia Pain
  • Chronic or Prolonged Dysentery
  • Yang Collapse: Profuse Sweating , Cold Limbs, and a Minute Pulse

Aconite (Fu Zi)

A thin slice of dried Fu Zi, which is usually very stiff and hard, is placed on a specific Acupuncture point. Moxa is then placed in the center of the Fu Zi and burned in the same way as the Ginger and Garlic methods. Aconite (Fu Zi) is hot and spicy and tonifies Yang and warms the Kidneys. Thus, this method can be used to treat Yang deficient conditions. A paste made from ground Fu Zi and rice wine can also be used as a medium for this method.

Indications

  • Non-Healing Ulcers
  • Yin Abscesses and Carbuncles that will not discharge

Pepper

In this method, white pepper is finely ground and mixed with flour. It is then spooned over the Acupuncture point as a medium for the Moxa. In addition to this, a small cavity in the center of the powder can be made with the finger to place other powders such as cloves or cinnamon. A Moxa cone is then placed on the powder and burned.

Indications

  • Pain from Cold type Arthritis
  • Stiffness and Numbness

Moxa Rolls

Another common method of indirect moxibustion uses large thin rolls of Moxa wrapped in paper. These rolls are available commercially and look very much like a long cigar. They can be ignited and then held in the hand comfortably to provide heat to particular areas of the body. The stick is usually moved in small circles close to the skin for about 5 to 10 minutes, or until the local area of the skin is red. Moving the stick rapidly close and far from the affected area is said to drive the heat deeper into the body, and is used when strong stimulation is desired.

A small bowl if rice is an excellent method for extinguishing a Moxa stick so that it can be reused at a later time.

Indications

  • Pain from Stagnation or Blockage, such as Cold Arthritic Pain
  • Soft Tissue Injuries
  • Skin Disorders

Final Thoughts

With any of these methods, it is important that the patient is monitored at all times, and that the area is well ventilated (especially with patients that suffer form Asthma for instance). It is also important to test the patients sensitivity to heat. This will ensure that the patient is not burned, even if they have a high tolerance for pain or low sensitivity to heat.