Guo Chinese Medical Center

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Moxibustion is a traditional Chinese medical technique that involves the burning of mugwort, a small spongy herb, to facilitate healing. Moxibustion has been used throughout Asia for thousands of years. The purpose of moxibustion is to strengthen the blood, stimulate the flow of qi, and to maintain general health.

How does moxibustion work?

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 and 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. At Guo Chinese Medical Center we do not use scarring moxibustion.

Indirect moxibustion is a more popular form of care because there is a much lower risk of pain or burning. In indirect moxibustion one end of a moxa stick, roughly the shape and size of a cigar, is lit and held close to the area being treated for several minutes until the area turns slightly red.

In another form of indirect moxibustion we use 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, or needles removed.

What is moxibustion used for?

In traditional Chinese medicine, moxibustion is used on people who have a cold or a stagnant condition. The burning of moxa is believed to expel cold and warm the meridians, which leads to a 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. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1998 found that up to 75% of women suffering from breech presentations before childbirth had fetuses that rotated to the normal position after receiving moxibustion at an acupuncture point on the Bladder meridian.

Other studies have shown that moxibustion increases the movement of the fetus in a pregnant women, and may reduce the symptoms of menstrual cramps when used in conjunction with traditional acupuncture.

Why is mugwort (ai ye) used?
Mugwort, also known as artemesia vulgaris or ai ye in Chinese, has a long history of use in folk medicine. Research has shown that it acts as an emmenagogue ­ that is, an agent that increases blood circulation to the pelvic area and uterus and stimulates menstruation. This could explain its use in treating breech births and menstrual cramps.
Excerpted from The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, Winter 2001

Abstract: Breech presentation was successfully corrected by stimulating acupuncture points with moxibustion or low-frequency electrical current. Only patients with breech pregnancies at the 28th week or later were entered into the study. With moxibustion treatment, the control group had a spontaneous correction rate of 165/224 (73.66%), and the treatment group had a correction rate of 123/133 (92.48%) (P [is less than] 0.0001, [x.sup.2] test). With low-frequency percutaneous electrical stimulation, the correction rate was 20/941 (83.87%) in the control group and 171/191 (89.52%) in the treatment group (P=0.094, [x.sup.2] test). The controls in the moxibustion study did no exercises and received no external manipulation to correct breech presentation whereas those in the electrical stimulation study experienced both. Acupuncture stimulation, especially with moxibustion, is expected to serve as a safe and effective modality in the management of breech presentation in a clinical setting.