Moxibustion Benefits

Moxibustion Benefits: What You Must Know

Moxibustion is a healing that, as we know, is as old as acupuncture itself; some even believe moxa predates acupuncture in its earliest forms. Though it can be used alone, it is often used in combination with acupuncture treatment. In fact, the Chinese word for acupuncture, zhenjiu, means “acupuncture and moxibustion”. Implementing moxibustion into your acupuncture practice could open up other benefits and protocol that may not be available with acupuncture alone for particular patient diagnoses.

Moxibustion Benefits for Patients

            Since moxa has many benefits and is used to treat multiple conditions and diseases, it is a good addition to any patient’s treatment plan.

Moxibustion Patient Benefits:

  • Women’s health – infertility, menstrual cramps, ovarian cysts, breech birth, hot flashes.

  • Pain relief – moxa improves the flow of Qi and the heat from it stimulates the nerves and releases endorphins allowing for self-healing. Pain conditions such as osteoarthritis, auto-immune pain, ulcerative colitis, and more.

  • Immune system improvement – daily use of direct or indirect moxa helps to increase a patient’s vitality, immunity, and longevity. Some points help stimulate the immune system, enhance digestion, regulate Qi, break up stagnation, and increase endurance. As far as immunity, studies have shown moxa to increase white blood cell counts, anti-inflammatory cytokines, and anti-body production in the body which are major components in the immune system.

  • Speed up recovery – the warmth created from the moxa aids in a speedy recovery and relaxes the body and mind.

Additionally, moxa smoke may improve the autonomic nervous system and induce relaxation throughout the body. Many patients do find the burning of moxa (mugwort usually) to be extremely comforting, but some do not. This is something that would need to be addressed with the patient prior to receiving moxa.

Moxibustion Pros & Cons

Hand holding moxa-stick. Used for therapy to warm up acupuncture points in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

            While the benefits of moxa far outweigh the cons, it is important evaluate any potential negatives to offering this service, not so that you can remove it from your practice all together, but so that you can be aware of them to accommodate various types of patients.

The Benefits of Moxibustion Treatments:

  • Promotes Circulation of Blood & Qi – a large percentage of many acupuncture providers have patients who come in for pain management, and the way moxa promotes the movement of Qi and Blood, it is particularly good for pain.

  • Builds Blood & Qi – in addition to circulation of Blood and Qi, it also builds Blood and Qi creating an increase in immune function, and helping when the patient feels run down.

  • Warming the Channels – as acupuncture providers, we know that cold can invade the body and lodge themselves within the channels resulting in pain. In these cases, the application of heat allows their condition to feel better.

  • Stimulating acupuncture points – this is also TCM diagnosis dependent as to whether to use direct or indirect moxa. Those patients that, depending on their pain or where it is located are contraindicated for needling which is where moxa cones would come in.

Potential downsides to offering Moxibustion:

  • Strong Smell – the pungent smell of moxa may be displeasing for some patients, and an inconvenience, depending on where they have to be after their appointment. It has a strong odor that is often described as spicy or akin to the smell of marijuana. There are some patients that find it unpleasant to be around, especially if it is being used on them let alone in the building.

  • Fire – this is a more generalized con when it comes to moxibustion because of course when dealing with fire there is always a risk. However, this isn’t necessarily an issue with experienced acupuncture providers who are able to keep their patient safe during the treatment.

Clearly, there are many more pros than there are cons when it comes to implementing moxibustion into your practice. There a several protocol measures we can take as acupuncture providers that will allow us to determine if moxa would be necessary or useful for a particular patient.

Moxibustion Provider Protocol

            It is important to be mindful of the space you hold for your practice. If you share your space with other providers who practice various forms of therapy, you have to find a balance that works for all individuals.

Moxibustion protocol to consider:

  • Workspace – as we said, it is important to consider the space you’re working with when offering moxa as a treatment option. If it is in a group or a smaller space, it is vital to be aware of the scent and possibility that it may not be pleasant to all involved. A possibility could be to perform small doses or non-smoky form in office, and then send patients home with some for self-care outside of the office.

  • Moxa is warming – since moxa is warming, it will increase issues in patients who have heat issues. For example, if moxa is applied when a patient has a rapid pulse and red tongue, it could cause the liver to overheat, and heat will rise to the head. This will cause the patient to feel agitated, possibly have red eyes, headache, and lightheadedness.

  • Patient consult/history – listen to the way the patient speaks; is it fast or slow? For example, if the patient speaks fast, be sure to think twice whether moxa should be applied. This could indicate a heat condition causing overheating, and moxa works best for cold, damp conditions where the patient presents with slow pulses, white coated tongue, loose stools, and slow metabolism

Forms of moxibustion to consider:

  • Direct – pure moxa, akin to wool, can be shaped into a cone placed on acupuncture points where the acupuncture provider burns about 2/3 of it before removing it from the patient which is non-scarring. There is another form of moxa used that is scarring where the practitioner allows the moxa to completely burn out before removing causing localized scarring and blisters. This form is not preferable in the U.S.

    • Thread – this is a form of direct moxibustion, but instead of a cone, tiny threads of moxa are used on acupoints. Use cream to separate the thread from the skin, and these threads are lit using an incense stick. This type of moxa heats a direct location.

  • Indirect – still pure moxa, but is not burned directly on the skin and is the more popular version to use here in the United States as there is less risk of burning or pain.

    • Liquid – there are companies that have created a liquid moxa which can be spread over the affected area of the patient and placed under a heat lamp to create the usual warming effect of moxa. This would be a great option if you are unable to burn moxa in your small or shared office.

    • Moxa Stick – this is a form of indirect moxibustion. The moxa is rolled into a stick resembling a cigar, and burning one end holding about an inch over a specific acupoint or area of the patient’s body. These can come in smoky or non-smoky forms which is what you would prescribe a patient to take home with them for self-care.

    • Needle – the moxa is rolled into a ball and put at the end of the acupuncture needle and burned. The moxa heats up the needle and warms the surface of the skin as well as deeper into the point.

No matter which form you choose to be right for you and your practice, it is just most important to know and understand your patient’s TCM diagnosis before applying moxa.

Moxibustion for Your Acupuncture Practice

            While moxibustion is known in the western world as a natural diuretic and moderate stimulant, in eastern medicine it has the goal of bringing the body back into balance ensuring the consistent flow of Qi, just like with acupuncture treatment. It has a deep history in the west and the east. As an acupuncture practitioner, the most important thing to remember when it comes to moxa is to pay attention to the needs of your office and patients.  Moxa has a limitless amount of benefits, but we must be diligent about following protocol, and remembering appropriate uses.  Moxa could be a great addition to your acupuncture practice to offer even more for your patients.

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