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  • Writer's pictureClaire Norton MBaCC


March 24, 2015



If you have ever experienced traditional acupuncture you may find yourself wondering why your acupuncturist lights a strange and funky smelling substance on your skin prior to needling. This method is called moxibustion and has been used for over 5000 years, in-fact, moxibustion is an integral aspect of Chinese medicine. The Chinese character for acupuncture is called zhenjiu, ‘zhen’ represents the needle and ‘jui’ translates to moxibustion. Moxibustion is commonly used in traditional acupuncture, it involves ignited dried mugwort (known as artemesia vulgaris or ai ye in Chinese) this grows abundantly in china and has always carried the belief that it can expel pathogenic factors. In acupuncture, moxa is placed on acupuncture points, inserted needles, or indirectly over an area. As an acupuncturist I love using moxa in my treatments, the difference can be felt immediately on the pulses. Do not be disheartened if you haven't experienced moxibustion during your acupuncture session, sometimes its simply not appropriate for either the patient or the specific treatment. 

Common uses in Chinese Medicine

* Strengthens immune system

* Strengthen the Blood

* Strengthen the flow of Qi

* Encourages blood circulation

* Warms the point before needling

* Treating gynaecological issues including fertility and turning breech babies

* Treating cold and flu

* Arthritis pain (particularly pain of cold patterns)

* Resolves ‘damp conditions’ (oedema, eczema, lethargy, phlegm) 

* Improves quality of sleep

Many patients report the experience of less coughs, colds and flu since having acupuncture. This is likely to be a result from a combination of needles and moxibustion as they both strengthen the immune system. Moxa Africa is a charity currently investigating the use of moxibustion to treat tuberculosis in Africa, they make the following statement…

“There is longstanding circumstantial evidence that moxa has been used to treat TB in East Asia. There exists far more powerful evidence from the 1930’s when moxa was used successfully to treat TB in the modern era particularly since these treatments were accompanied by published academic research.

There is also convincing more recent evidence that moxa treatment creates an immune response in both animals and humans.”

Turning breech babies is also another wonder of moxibustion!

A Chinese 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 on the acupuncture point BL67. I particularly enjoy this treatment for two reasons, firstly it tends to have great success and secondly; its a great opportunity to see the capability of moxibustion as a stand alone treatment. In my opinion, it is best to carry the treatment out between 32 and 35 weeks to have the best success. Any later and the baby may be too big to turn, it is important to try to get to see an acupuncturist as close to 32 weeks as possible.


Direct Moxibustion

Direct moxibustion usually involves hand rolled moxa cones being ignited on acupuncture points prior to needling. There are both scarring and non scarring methods, non scarring the cone is removed as soon as the patient feels the heat from the cone; in scarring methods the cone is allowed to burn down. Non scarring is the more widely practiced method in todays acupuncture, patients tend to report a warming sensation and no real discomfort. 


Indirect Moxibustion

Indirect moxibustion is the use of ignited mugwort in a cigar like stick called ‘moxa roll’ , this is usually used along a meridian where there is pain and held above the skins surface. A lighted moxa roll is also the selected method in turning breech babies, moxa roll is held above a specific point on the toe. Another method of indirect moxa is ‘moxa on needle’ where the needle is inserted and then a moxa cone is placed on top of the needle and ignited. Once the needle moxa has burned out, the moxa is removed with a split spoon then the needle is safe to remove once it has cooled down. Moxa boxes are also useful for bringing heat to a larger area, moxa is placed and ignited in a copper dish inside a wooden box and placed in the area to be treated. 

How does it feel?

Firstly its important to point out that moxa should not hurt, many report of a sudden warming sensation and some feel the warmth radiate along the acupuncture meridian. Direct moxa can feel very warm indeed and your assistance in treatment is paramount regarding informing the practitioner when the moxa is too hot. Indirect moxa is more of a gentle warming sensation and not uncomfortable at any point. Moxa does let off quite a substantial amount of smoke, some may find this overpowering where as most enjoy the sensation. 


Acupuncture Today. Moxibustion. Accessed at on March 23, 2015.

Cardini F, Weixin H. Moxibustion for correction of breech presentation: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 1998;280:1580-1584.

Gao, Xiyan, Cuixiang Xu, Peiyu Wang, Shan Ren, Yanli Zhou, Xuguang Yang, and Ling Gao. "Curative effect of acupuncture and moxibustion on insomnia: a randomized clinical trial." Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine 33, no. 4 (2013): 428-432.

Moxa Africa. Accessed  at on March 23, 2015

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