Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medicine technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small, spongy herb, to facilitate healing. In fact, the actual Chinese character for acupuncture, translated literally, means “acupuncture-moxibustion.” The purpose of moxibustion, as with most forms of traditional Chinese medicine, is to strengthen the blood, stimulate the flow of qi, and maintain general health.
There are two types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. In direct moxibustion, a small, cone-shaped amount of moxa is placed on top of an acupuncture point and burned. This type of moxibustion is further categorized into two types: scarring and non-scarring. With scarring moxibustion, the moxa is placed on a point, ignited, and allowed to remain onto the point until it burns out completely. This may lead to localized scarring, blisters and scarring after healing. With non-scarring moxibustion, the moxa is placed on the point and lit, but is extinguished or removed before it burns the skin. The patient will experience a pleasant heating sensation that penetrates deep into the skin, but should not experience any pain, blistering or scarring unless the moxa is left in place for too long.
Indirect moxibustion is currently the more popular form of care because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. In indirect moxibustion, a practitioner lights one end of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, and holds it close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area turns red. Another form of indirect moxibustion uses both acupuncture needles and moxa. A needle is inserted into an acupoint and retained. The tip of the needle is then wrapped in moxa and ignited, generating heat to the point and the surrounding area. After the desired effect is achieved, the moxa is extinguished and the needle(s) removed.
In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion is used on people who have a cold or stagnant condition. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to smoother flow of blood and qi. In Western medicine, moxibustion has successfully been used to turn breech babies into a normal head-down position prior to childbirth.
Moxibustion therapy in conjunction with acupuncture can be very effective for many other diseases and conditions including back pain, muscle stiffness, headaches, migraines, tendonitis, arthritis, digestive disorders, anxiety, and female health problems such as menstrual cramps, irregular periods, and infertility.
However, it should be noted that moxa, especially direct moxa, is generally not recommended for patients with diabetes, decreased sensitivity to pain, who are on certain medications such as prednisone, or who have any other conditions involving compromised circulation or a weakened immune system.
The acupoints are well selected according to the physique and the requirement of health preservation and rehabilitation. The ignited moxa or moxa cone is aimed at the acupoint to produce a feeling of mild heat, the degree of which is determined by a warm and cozy feeling as well as endurability.
Moxibustion usually lasts about 3 to 5 minutes, the longest one being 10 to 15 minutes. Short moxibustion is advisable to strengthen health and prevent diseases while long one may be used for treatment and rehabilitation. It really depends on the different individual situation. It takes all age, sex, location of problem and history into account.
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