What Is Moxibustion?

(BeWellBuzz) Moxibustion refers to a form of Chinese therapy involving mugwort herb or moxa. In this practice, mugwort herb is burned and applied on the skin of the patient directly or indirectly. This practice originated in Northern China and since then has been an integral part of traditional medicine in China, Japan, Vietnam, Mongolia, and Korea.

Moxibustion has been traditionally used in the treatment of certain deficient conditions, gerontology, and chronic problems. Practioners of traditional Chinese medicine believed that mugwort contains excellent emmenagogic properties. Emmenagogues are plants that accelerate the flow of blood in the pelvis and surrounding areas such as the uterus in women. Emmenagogues, including mugwort herb, are believed to be effective in turning breech babies and treating menstrual cramps.

Moxibustion can be administered in different ways. The effect of this therapy depends on how it is administered.

Types of moxibustion

There are two types of moxibustion – direct and indirect. Direct moxibustion is further divided into the following two categories – scarring and non-scarring.

Direct Moxibustion

In this method, the dried mugwort herb is winded in a cone shape. It is then placed directly over the administration point and burned. Both types of direct moxibustion, scarring and non-scarring, use this principle. Nonetheless, they are distinctly different. The practitioners of traditional medicine believe that scarring direct moxibustion has a more profound therapeutic effect than non-scarring direct moxibustion. Some experts, in fact, opine that non-scarring direct moxibustion should be categorized as indirect moxibustion, and not as direct moxibustion.

  • Scarring direct moxibustion – In scarring direct moxibustion, the mugwort herb is allowed to burn completely on an acupuncture point. In this procedure, the occurrence of certain undesirable effects such as burn marks, scarring, and blistering at the administration site is common. In fact, causing actual damage to the skin is central to this method of moxibustion. When the skin is damaged, the body releases certain immunological mediators, which in turn trigger a healing reaction. Needless to say, patients experience a little pain and discomfort during the procedure, especially when it is close to its completion. At present, scarring direct moxibustion is rarely, if at all, performed outside Japan.
  • Non-scarring direct moxibustion – In this method, the burning mugwort herb is removed or extinguished before it burns the patient’s skin. The patient invariably feels a gratifying, pleasurable, and soft heating sensation permeating deep into his/her skin. Unlike scarring direct moxibustion, the patient does not experience any pain, scarring or burning in this procedure- unless, of course, the burning moxa is left on the skin for too long.

Indirect Moxibustion

Indirect moxibustion is more popular than direct moxibustion as the former does not carry any risk of pain or discomfort. There are two ways in which indirect moxibustion is done – with acupuncture needles and without acupuncture needles.

Let us first see how acupuncture needles and moxa are combined to promote healing. An acupuncture needle is inserted into a specific point and retained. Next, the mugwort herb is wrapped around the tip of the acupuncture needle and burned to heat the skin. After some time, the herb is extinguished and the acupuncture needle(s) are taken out.

Indirect moxibustion can be also administered without using acupuncture needles. For this, a cigar-shaped moxa stick is burnt and held close to the treated area for some time. After the desired effect is achieved, the practitioner extinguishes the moxa stick or takes it away from the patient’s skin.

Benefits of moxibustion

Proponents of this therapy believe that it is effective in the treatment of:

  • Muscle stiffness
  • Back pain
  • Arthritis
  • Infertility
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Irregular periods
  • Migraines
  • Headaches
  • Tendonitis
  • Anxiety
  • Digestive problems
  • Cancer

In addition, moxibustion is effective in turning breach babies into the normal position in the mother’s womb.

Notes of caution: Moxibustion, by and large, is a completely safe process. However, it is not recommended for individuals with diabetes or reduced sensitivity to pain. Individuals with asthma, bronchitis, or other respiratory problems should ask the practitioner to use smokeless mugwort herb.


Although moxibustion has not been effectively studied, some studies have been done, over time, to gauge its efficacy in treating various health conditions. The response of these studies, on the whole, is encouraging.

Study 1

A study was done in 1998 to ascertain the ability of moxibustion to rotate breech babies to the normal position before birth. Researchers found that the position of the breech babies in 2/3rd of the participants changed to the normal head-down position after mother was given moxibustion.

Study 2

Another study involving 15 post-menopausal women revealed that participants experienced a considerable decrease in the frequency and severity of hot flashes after 14 sessions of moxibustion.

Besides these two studies, certain other studies have pointed that moxibustion does have excellent healing properties. One such study concludes that this therapy may be beneficial for stroke patients. Another study states that moxibustion may be beneficial to individuals with ulcerative colitis. However, as is the case with many other traditional healing techniques, additional research is required on moxibustion before these early, encouraging results can be listed as true with absolute certainty.








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