Moxibustion (Chinese: ç¸; pinyin: jiÇ”) is a traditional Chinese medicine therapy using moxa, or mugwort herb. It plays an important role in the traditional medical systems of China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Tibet, and Mongolia. Suppliers usually age the mugwort and grind it up to a fluff; practitioners burn the fluff or process it further into a cigar-shaped stick. They can use it indirectly, with acupuncture needles, or burn it on the patient's skin.
Practitioners use moxa to warm regions and acupuncture points with the intention of stimulating circulation through the points and inducing a smoother flow of blood and qi. It is believed by some, for example at Mugwort (Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine by Clare Hanrahan), that mugwort acts as an emmenagogue, meaning that it stimulates blood-flow in the pelvic area and uterus. It is claimed that moxibustion militates against cold and dampness in the body, and can serve to turn breech babies.
Practitioners consider moxibustion to be especially effective in the treatment of chronic problems, "deficient conditions" (weakness), and gerontology. Bian Que (fl. circa 500 BCE), one of the most famous semi-legendary doctors of Chinese antiquity and the first specialist in moxibustion, discussed the benefits of moxa over acupuncture in his classic work. He asserted that moxa could add new energy to the body and could treat both excess and deficient conditions. On the other hand, he advised against the use of acupuncture in an already deficient (weak) patient, on the grounds that needle manipulation would leak too much energy.
Practitioners may use acupuncture needles made of various materials in combination with moxa, depending on the direction of supposed qi flow they wish to stimulate.
There are three methods of moxibustion: direct scarring, direct non-scarring, and indirect moxibustion. Direct scarring moxibustion places a small cone of mugwort on the skin at an acupuncture point and burns it until the skin blisters, which then scars after it heals. Direct non-scarring moxibustion removes the burning mugwort before the skin burns enough to scar, unless the burning mugwort is left on the skin too long. Indirect moxibustion holds a cigar made of mugwort near the acupuncture point to heat the skin, or holds it on an acupuncture needle inserted in the skin to heat the needle.
Use in Western medicine
An overview of systematic reviews published in 2010 found that there are several conditions for which moxibustion may be effective, but the reviews were based on research of such low quality that the results are uncertain. In addition, many of the positive trials were conducted in China, so concern has been expressed that publication bias may result in a falsely positive impression.
In traditional Chinese medicine there is a belief that moxibustion of mugwort is effective at increasing the cephalic positioning of fetuses who were in a breech position before the intervention. A 2012 Cochrane review stated that there is "some evidence" that moxibustion may be useful for reducing the need for external cephalic version, but well-designed randomised controlled trials were needed to evaluate the safety and efficacy of moxibustion.