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Moxibustion

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Moxibustion, or moxa for short, is one of the most ancient and well-known treatment methods in Chinese medicine (though also integrated into other systems as well). Often thought of as the paired modality to acupuncture, the word acupuncture in Chinese is zhen jiu, "zhen" meaning needle and "jiu" meaning moxa. Moxa is composed of the ground-up leaves of a species of chrysanthemum known as mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). It is then applied to acupuncture points or meridians for its warming, medicinal, and therapeutic properties. From a traditional Chinese medical perspective, it is said to open and warm the 12 regular meridians, regulate qi and blood, expel cold and damp, remove stagnation, stop bleeding, warm the uterus, and ease menstruation. Many studies have shown that moxibustion can increase movement of the fetus in pregnant women, as well as rotate breech-presenting fetuses to normal position when applied to an acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian.

Moxa can be formed and applied in various ways depending on personal preference, system of acupuncture being practiced, and the sought after effect. Direct moxibustion is when a small cone of loose moxa "wool" is placed on top of an acupuncture point and burned. This type can further be divided into scarring and non-scarring moxibustion. Non-scarring moxibustion is where the moxa is used to prepare, warm, and open the point prior to needling, and is taken off the skin before causing a burn. Scarring moxibustion is where the cone is allowed to burn all the way down to purposefully cause blistering and scarring. This method is no longer commonplace. Indirect moxibustion is when moxa is burned without direct contact to the skin. This can be accomplished in several ways. The most common method is using pre-rolled moxa sticks. These are available in different sizes and even a "smokeless" option. These are then ignited and hovered about an inch above the local area or acupuncture point being treated. Another option, called "warming needle", involves placing a small amount of loose moxa wool on the handle of an inserted needle and allowing it to warm the needle, thus enhancing the acupuncture point being activated. Lastly, one can place a medium to large size moxa cone on an insulator, such as salt, garlic, or ginger between the moxa and the body. In this way the patient is not at risk for burn and is able to absorb the therapeutic benefits of the insulator along with the moxa.

Author: David Tucker, LAc, LMP


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