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In my practice, I offer moxibustion therapy (also known as “moxa”) to support my patients. It’s not appropriate for every person, but it can be an effective supportive treatment for specific conditions.

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is an ancient form of medicine originating in China. Moxibustion is the burning of the herb mugwort over specific acupuncture points for therapeutic purposes.

For what health conditions do you use moxa?

Typically, moxibustion is used for health issues due to cold and for patients with cold constitutions. The moxa deeply warms the acupuncture points to strengthen the body, so it can also be used for patients with general deficiencies. Moxibustion also moves stuck energy and blood, so it is used to increase blood and energy flow.

The most frequent uses in my practice include:

  • health issues caused by cold– issues due to cold or worsened by cold weather (ex. arthritis, chronic pain)
  • patients with cold constitutions- patients who always feel cold
  • patients with deficiency (especially qi, blood or yang deficiency)
  • postpartum support (also known as “mother warming”)
  • in pregnancy, to support pregnant women with babies in breech position
  • painful menstrual periods 
  • lack of periods due to cold
  • chronic or acute uterine bleeding
  • digestive issues due to cold or deficiency

What does moxibustion therapy look like?

The biggest thing you will notice about moxibustion therapy is the smell from burning the mugwort. Some people like the earthy smell, but others can find it intense. (I find the smell as intense as burning sage or certain kinds of incense.)

In my practice, I use two different kinds of moxibustion: traditional moxa sticks and smokeless moxa sticks. The biggest difference between the two is that the traditional variety smokes a lot and the smokeless variety produces much less smoke. I use the smokeless variety in my office since my office-mates don’t love the smell. I will sometimes send my patients home with the traditional variety if they are up to it, since it can be a little more effective.

Typically during a treatment, I insert the acupuncture needles first. Then, I use moxa on specific acupuncture points based on the patient’s diagnosis. With the stick form of moxa (either smokeless or traditional), I hold the moxa 1 1/2 – 2 inches away from the skin until the area gently warms and the skin slightly turns pink from the heat. The moxa never touches the skin, instead it is the smoke from the moxa that warms the skin. Once an area is sufficiently warmed, I move to the next point. The total treatment can be anywhere from 5-20 minutes depending on the number of points indicated, the patient’s diagnosis, and if we are using any specific protocols that require a specific amount of time (like in supporting pregnant mothers whose babies are in breech position).

Does it hurt? Any side effects?

The warmth from moxibustion can feel very soothing and cozy to patients who need it. Sometimes, the sensation can get hot, even though the moxa never touches the skin. I am constantly asking my patient for feedback during the treatment. Since I am holding the moxa stick over the patient, I can simply lift the moxa away and the sensation returns to normal.

Some people find that moxa increases their energy. If it’s done too late at night, some people have difficulty falling asleep. In this case, we would recommend to use the moxa in the morning so that patients can fall asleep easily at night.

There’s always the possibility of burning the skin with moxa. Since I am present during the treatment at all times, the risk is very low. I have found that doing moxa on oneself can be a little trickier and small burns can happen, especially if distracted. If possible, have someone else administer it. (I can say from my own experience, don’t do moxa on yourself while watching tv. I have two tiny scars from doing moxa for the wrist pain I had from taking a lot of notes during acupuncture school. The moxa was super helpful, but ten years later I can still see the tiny scar the size of a pin head.)

What are the effects?

Moxa can deepen the effect of the acupuncture treatment to strengthen the body and move stuck energy. Some people with cold constitutions might feel their body temperature becomes warmer with the moxibustion therapy (which feels really great for those who are constantly cold).

With proper instructions, moxibustion can also be done at home to support the healing effects between treatments.

Are you curious about trying moxibustion?

I am always happy to answer your questions to see if moxibustion is appropriate for you. If you are a current patient, ask me about this. If you are interested in becoming a new patient, give my office a call or send me an email.

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