Moxibustion: What It Is & How It Works

What is moxibustion

Last Updated on March 15, 2024

Considering whether to get a moxibustion treatment? Inner Gate Health & Wellness explains why it is an effective treatment option.

Why Acupuncturists Use Mugwort (Artemisia) for Moxibustion

Mugwort, or Artemesia Vulgaris, has been used throughout history for medicinal purposes. Heated mugwort produces an acrid spicy odor that also helps stimulate blood flow. The herb burns slowly, making it ideal for a moxibustion treatment.

Mugwort is proven to increase blood circulation in the pelvic area. Women have used it for years to stimulate menstruation. In modern science, acupuncturists use it to treat menstrual cramps. Moxibustion is a natural option used to turn breech babies in the womb to the head-down position.

Is Moxa the Same as Mugwort?

Moxa is a Japanese term for burning herbs. Moxa is generally harvested from the mugwort herb, so they are the same thing. You can find moxa in a variety of forms:

  • Rolls
  • Sticks
  • Stick-on moxa for acupuncture needles
  • Loose moxa
  • Liquid moxa

All varieties come from mugwort but come in different forms depending on the moxibustion technique.

Do you live and Portland and want an experienced, certified acupuncturist? Learn more about our high-quality acupuncture services. 

Related Link: Acupuncture for Plantar Fasciitis

Direct Moxibustion Method

Using a direct method, the clinical practitioner places moxa or mugwort directly on the patient’s skin and then lights the herb, letting it burn until the fire goes out. This method can be the most effective but can cause scarring or blistering on the skin. Because of this risk, we recommend that you don’t do it on your face or other sensitive areas of your body.

Indirect Moxibustion Method

Using an indirect method, the practitioner doesn’t burn the mugwort against the skin. The indirect process ensures the body won’t get burned or blistered. There are a variety of indirect methods:

  • Waving or holding the burning moxa over areas of your body without touching the skin.
  • Pressing the moxa into a pole that is lit and held close to the skin.
  • Adding moxa to the tips of acupuncture pins and then inserting the pins into acupoints.
  • Placing a barrier of salt, ginger, or garlic between the skin and burning moxa.
Close up photo of burning moxa cone

What Does Moxibustion Feel Like?

For most patients, moxibustion feels like a flood of warmth along the designated pathway from the application site. The heat can radiate along the jing Luo channel the practitioner utilizes. If you feel this, it is normal and the desired result. It will stimulate blood circulation.

For many patients, the moxibustion treatment is soothing and relaxing. However, some patients don’t like the burning or acrid mugwort smell.

Does Moxibustion Smell Bad?

Moxibustion does smell like smoke and burning mugwort. Mugwort smells similar to marijuana. While there are some smokeless moxa varieties, mugwort doesn’t smoke excessively.

So whether it smells bad to you will depend mainly on your sensitivity to smoke and odors. Most clinics have high-quality air purification systems and ventilation to reduce the smell.

Does Moxibustion Hurt?

Whether you feel pain while receiving a moxibustion treatment primarily depends on your treatment method. With the direct method, the mugwort burns out entirely before removal, leaving localized scarring and blisters, which can be painful.

The indirect method never touches the skin, so this method doesn’t hurt. Most people find this method relaxing and soothing as the moxa warms the skin without touching it. Most clinics prefer to use the indirect method because it has a lower risk of pain or burning.

How Often Should You Do Moxibustion?

Moxibustion treatment frequency depends on what you are treating. For example, those trying to improve hypertension may need three treatments a week for up to four weeks. At Inner Gate Health & Wellness, we’ll customize a personalized healing plan depending on your treatment needs.  

For women who have breech babies, you may only need one moxibustion treatment between 36-37 weeks gestation. The treatment has a 60% success rate for turning your baby. If the treatment doesn’t work, you’ll need to have your doctor attempt to turn the baby.

Ready to try moxibustion at your next healing session? Book an appointment with our experienced clinical acupuncturists.

Related Link: Acupuncture and Shoulder Pain

Risks of Moxibustion

There is a minor risk using the indirect moxibustion method, other than an allergic reaction if you have a mugwort allergy or smoke sensitivity. Some people who have a lung condition like asthma may find the smoke and odor irritating. Other possible side effects of the indirect method include the following:

  • Sore throat or coughing from smoke irritation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fetal distress
  • Premature birth
  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Dark skin patches

If you are using the direct method, there is the risk of:

  • Burning the skin
  • Blistering
  • Scarring
  • Skin discoloration
  • Pus discharge where the skin was damaged

While some women use this treatment option to help turn breech babies in the womb, you should always disclose if you are pregnant to your practitioner. They can modify the treatment to ensure your baby’s safety.

Moxa cone close up

Can You Do Moxibustion Yourself?

Some people do the indirect method of moxibustion on their own, but we wouldn’t recommend it. To do it well requires learning proper techniques and acupoints. Otherwise, you’re just burning a mugwort stick and waving it around without adequate effect.

A licensed practitioner will have the skills to ensure the best treatment and safety from accidental burning. Our clinically certified acupuncturists specialize in proper moxibustion treatment to deliver desired results.

Moxibustion is a Safe and Effective Treatment Method

Moxibustion has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine. Its blood-stimulating techniques can significantly improve your health. For those looking for a natural alternative treatment, moxibustion can be very effective. We recommend using an indirect method for safety and comfort.

Inner Gate Health & Wellness has experienced, board-certified acupuncturists that can help administer moxibustion treatments as part of your customized healing plan. If you live in the Portland area, you’ll want to book an appointment to improve your health and well-being.

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