Moxibustion is a form of fire heat treatment that stimulates specific acupuncture points of the body.
A small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acupuncture point and burned on the skin. Direct moxibustion is a traditional technique considered to be very therapeutic. Much of the scientific study has been done on scarring direct moxibustion. The effectiveness of direct moxibustion particularly on immune function has been reported as early as 1927 by Dr. Shimetaro Hara, at the Kyushu University in Japan. Presently however, direct moxibustion is not performed routinely outside of Japan, as it may have some undesirable effects such as blistering, burn marks, and even scarring at the moxibustion site. In an attempt to prevent skin damage, some acupuncturists place a medium (slice of ginger, topical paste, etc.) between the skin and the burning moxa or extinguish the burning moxa just before it reaches the skin. The possible effect derived from this type of moxibustion (sometimes referred to as non-scarring direct moxibustion or categorized as indirect moxibustion) should not be considered the same as the scarring direct moxibustion since the main effect of direct moxibustion is considered to result from actual damage to the skin (thus stimulating the release of immunological mediators resulting in a healing reaction).
A rice seed size moxa applied on LI4 acupuncture point
Currently, the more popular form of moxibustion in many countries including China is the indirect form, because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. Indirect moxa is considered to induce a gradual localized vasodilatation response. In addition to increasing the local blood flow, skillful indirect moxibustion is extremely comforting and can create a deep relaxation response. There are different types of indirect moxibustion.
It is a type of moxa-stick moxibustion, in which a practitioner lights one end of a moxa stick (roughly the shape and size of a cigar) and holds it an inch or two away from the skin, usually around the inserted needles to bring mild warmth to the area without burning, until the skin becomes slightly red. The intensity of the heat is adjusted according to the patient’s condition and comfort.
Moxibustion with Moxa Tube
It consists of a cylindrical pipe filled with moxa or thin moxa stick. There is a cavity between the moxa and the skin’s surface, permitting the indirect administration of heat stimulation. The thermal heat emitted by a single application of the moxibustion lasts approximately three minutes. It can be conducted relatively easily and safely; thus it has been widely used as a home therapy in some countries, including Japan.
Sennenkyu (and its variation)
Just like the Moxibustion with Moxa Tube, Sennnenkyu can be conducted relatively easily and safely; thus it has been widely used as a home therapy in some countries, including Japan.
Moxa Burner Moxibustion
Moxibustion with a moxa burner to hold the ignited moxa stick
Needle Moxa Technique
This technique used to be quite popular in Japan. With the needle moxa technique, the heat intensity is much harder to control than the moxa stick method. Contrary to commonly held belief, moxa heat conducted through the needle is very minute and insignificant. Most of the heat is actually through reflective heat just like the moxa stick method.
Other Moxa Methods
Moxibustion on ginger
The application of moxibustion on a piece of fresh ginger as an insulating medium, also called ginger moxibustion.
Moxibustion on salt
The application of moxibustion on salt as an insulating medium, also called salt moxibustion.
Moxibustion on garlic
The application of moxibustion on a slice of fresh garlic as an insulating medium, also called garlic moxibustion.
A type of moxa-stick moxibustion, performed by holding an ignited moxa stick at a certain distance above the patient’s skin, keeping the spot warm and making it reddened but not burnt.
A type of moxa-stick moxibustion, performed by keeping an ignited moxa stick at a fixed distance from the patient’s skin, but moving it in a circular direction.
Pecking sparrow moxibustion
A type of moxa-stick moxibustion, performed by putting an ignited moxa stick near the patient‘s skin, and moving it up and down like a bird’s pecking so as to give strong heat to the applied spot.
A type of moxa-stick moxibustion, in which the ignited moxa stick is held above the skin.
Moxibustion performed by placing several layers of cloth or paper on the spot, and then pressing the ignited end of a moxa stick on the cloth or paper.
Moxibustion performed by applying a quick momentary touch to the point with a piece of ignited oiled rush.
Taiyi moxa stick moxibustion
A special moxa roll made of sandalwood, notopterygium rhizome, cassia twig, dahurian angelica root and other medicinal herbs, used for the treatment of wind-cold-dampness arthralgia, abdominal pain of cold type and dysmenorrhea.
Thunder-fire wonder moxibustion
a type of medicinal moxa roll including Chinese eagle wood, common aucklandia root, frankincense, and other medicinal herbs, used for treating maladies such as cold and pain in the epigastrium and abdomen, rheumatism and dysmenorrhea.
Moxibustion with the moxa cigar made of moxa and various herbal medicines.
Warm needling therapy
a therapy involving warm needling moxibustion.
Electrical thermal stimulation used in place of moxa.
NOTE: The terminologies and definitions of moxibustion methods are adapted from WHO International Standard Terminologies on Traditional Medicine in the Western Pacific Region, published by the World Health Organization in 2007.