What is moxibustion?

A technique of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), moxibustion is the burning of mugwort on selected skin to heal ailments. Mugwort is an herb that is spongy and small with astonishing healing properties. Having been used for thousands of years in the East, moxibustion has the benefit of making the blood stronger and allowing the Qi energy flow to be stimulated. Overall, it may help to improve the patient’s general health.

To this day, moxibustion remains a popular treatment among the Chinese population, notwithstanding the development of medical science.[1] Over the years, the Chinese government has shown continued interest in the research of the treatment.[2] In the 1950s there were many efforts to publish and popularize the fundamentals of moxibustion as well as to summarise its clinical experience.[3] In November 1987, the World Foundation of Acupuncture-Moxibustion Societies (WFAS) was established.[4] As a result of these efforts, the treatment has played a leading role in modernizing traditional Chinese medicine.[5]

What is the moxibustion process like? Will there be any pain?

There are two types of treatment: direct and indirect. Direct treatment involves placing a small amount of moxa on a specific point on the body (or acupoint) as determined by the practitioner. Once the moxa is placed, it is burnt in which the healing process begins. Direct treatment is further divided into “scarring moxibustion” or “non-scarring moxibustion” depending on the duration for which the burning moxa is kept on the acupoint.[6] With scarring, the moxa is placed until it is completely burnt away, causing scarring and blisters.[7] With non-scarring, the burning moxa is removed from the acupoint before it has a chance to burn the flesh.[8] All the patient will feel is a relaxing heat sensation which will sink down into the underlayers of their skin. With moderate heat, it does not leave any blisters or scarring or cause pain.[9]

Indirect moxibustion is the most widely used form since it poses very little risk to the patient. There is very little burning or pain associated with it. During this process, the practitioner takes a moxa stick, similar to a cigar and lights one end of it. The lit end of the stick is then placed near the acupoint for a duration until there appears redness on the skin.[10] Sometimes both moxa and needles are used for indirect treatment. The practitioner will gently insert a needle into the area, wrap the other end of it with moxa and light the moxa, which produces heat at the acupoint and the surrounding area. Upon completion, the practitioner will extinguish the flaming moxa and remove the needle from the area.[11] Moxa treatment can be used to assist the stimulation of blood circulation and treat warm and cold conditions. Traditional Chinese medical practitioners would use moxibustion on patients who are stagnant or had a cold condition. It is believed that when moxa is burning over the acupoints, it will draw out the coldness from the meridians and bring warmth to them, allowing Qi energy and blood to flow more smoothly.[12]

Is moxibustion safe?

Patients with wind-stroke block syndrome, loss of consciousness and high fever should not receive treatment.[13]

What are the benefits of moxibustion?

Moxibustion may be used to assist with menstrual cramps, diarrhea and fatigue and to manage the stress levels of women who are pregnant.[14]

[1] Liangyue, Deng, ‘Chinese acupuncture-moxibustion’ in Ranjit Chaudhury and Uton Rafei (eds.), Traditional Medicine in Asia (World Health Organisation, 2001) 75. Accessed 13 March 2019 <>.
[2] Ibid.
[3] ‘Moxibustion’ in Ren Zhang and Xuemin Wang (eds.), Introduction to Acupuncture and Moxibustion (World Century Compendium, 2013) 225. Accessed 12 March 2019.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Crislip, Mark, ‘Moxibustion’ Science-Based Medicine 18 April 2014. Accessed 11 March 2019 <>.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Yin, Ganglin and Liu, Zhenghua, Advanced Modern Chinese Acupuncture Therapy (New World Press, 1999).
[10] Ibid.
[11] Yin and Liu, above n 9.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Zhang and Wang, above n 3.
[14] Yin and Liu, above n 9; Crislip, above n 6.
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