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Bright Room Community Acupuncture is a community clinic in Hackney. We treat a variety of conditions with moxibustion (or moxa), such as , menstural issues, digestive problems, breech pregnancies and more. Read on to find out more about the history, theory and uses of moxibustion.

Contact us to find out if we can help you.

Moxibustion: Warming the body to heal

Moxibustion is traditional Chinese medicine technique that has been practiced for thousands of years, making it one of the oldest therapies still in use today. It involved the burning of dried mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) to create a gentle heat, warming the body and improving physiological function.

The roots of moxibustion can be traced back to prehistoric China. Archaeological evidence suggests that as early as the Neolithic period (approximately 10,000-4,000 BCE), ancient Chinese people were using moxa to treat various ailments. The earliest written records of moxibustion are found in ancient Chinese medical texts such as the “Huangdi Neijing” (The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Canon), which dates back to the 2nd century BCE. This foundational text in Chinese medicine outlines the principles of treating diseases with moxa.

Moxa can treat a wide variety of conditions

By using the warmth of moxibustion to increase heat in the body (yang energy) and drive out cold and damp, it can treat a variety of conditions.

Breech Presentation in Pregnancy: One of the most well-known applications of moxibustion is its use in turning a breech baby to a head-down position. Breech presentation, where the baby is positioned feet or buttocks first, can complicate delivery. Moxibustion, particularly at the acupuncture point BL67 (located on the outer corner of the little toe), has been shown to increase fetal activity, encouraging the baby to turn.

Several studies have supported the efficacy of moxibustion for breech presentation. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that moxibustion, combined with acupuncture, significantly increased the rate of fetal rotation compared to usual care alone.

Digestive Disorders: Moxibustion has been traditionally used to treat various digestive issues. By stimulating specific acupuncture points, moxibustion can help regulate gastrointestinal function, reduce inflammation, and improve digestion, so has can used to treat diarrhoea and indigestion, particularly in cases where eating cold or raw foods make symptoms worse. Clinical studies suggest that moxibustion can enhance gastric motility and increase digestive enzyme activity, thereby improving overall digestive health.

Pain Management: Pain relief is another area where moxibustion has demonstrated significant benefits. The heat from moxibustion can reduce joint inflammation and alleviate pain, so can relieve the pain experienced with arthritis. Moxibustion at specific points can relieve chronic lower back pain by improving blood circulation and reducing muscle tension.

Moxibustion on points such as SP6 can help mitigate the pain associated with dysmenorrhea, easing the cramping sensations often experienced before or during the period.

Immune System Support: Moxibustion is also believed to strengthen the immune system, making the body more resilient against infections and diseases. Regular moxibustion treatments are thought to enhance overall vitality and energy levels. Studies have shown that moxibustion can increase the production of white blood cells and improve immune responses, potentially aiding in the prevention of illness.

Anxiety and Depression: The calming and warming effects of moxibustion can help reduce stress and improve mood.
Insomnia: Moxibustion at points like HT7 and SP6 can promote relaxation and improve sleep quality. Preliminary studies suggest that moxibustion can have a positive impact on emotional well-being, though more research is needed in this area.

How does moxibustion work?

From a Chinese Medicine perspective, moxa’s primary action is to provide warmth, which invigorates the flow of Qi and Blood. The heat from burning moxa penetrates deeply into the body, aiding in the removal of blockages and promoting smooth circulation.

When Qi and Blood are stagnant, it can lead to pain, swelling, and dysfunction. Moxa helps to disperse these blockages, restoring the natural flow.

Moxa is also effective in strengthening Yang energy, which is crucial for warming the body and supporting active functions. Conditions that have been caused by coldness, deficiency, and stagnation are often treated with moxa to provide the necessary warmth and stimulation. 

Moxa is commonly used to treat cold-induced conditions, as it provides heat that counteracts the excess Yin (cold) and boosts Yang (warmth).

For conditions characterized by deficiency (weakness, fatigue), moxibustion helps to tonify and replenish the body’s vital energies (Yang).

From a Western perspective, moxibustion’s therapeutic effects are primarily attributed to the heat generated by burning moxa, which interacts with the body in several beneficial ways:

  1. Heat Therapy and Blood Circulation

    The heat produced during moxibustion penetrates deeply into the body, warming the tissues and improving blood flow. Enhanced circulation helps deliver oxygen and nutrients to tissues while facilitating the removal of metabolic waste products. This process can reduce inflammation and promote healing in the affected areas. Studies have demonstrated that moxibustion increases microcirculation and blood flow to the targeted areas, supporting tissue repair and reducing pain and inflammation.

  2. Regulation of the Nervous System

    Research indicates that stimulating acupuncture points with moxibustion can trigger the release of neurotransmitters and modulate the nervous system, contributing to pain relief and improved physiological function.

  3. Thermal Effects on Immune Function

    The warming effect of moxibustion is thought to boost the immune system. Heat can enhance the activity of immune cells, such as white blood cells, and increase the production of cytokines, which play a crucial role in the immune response. Studies have shown that moxibustion can increase the number and activity of white blood cells, improving the body’s ability to fight infections and supporting overall immune health.

  4. Biochemical Effects of Mugwort

    Mugwort contains several bioactive compounds, such as cineole and thujone, which have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and analgesic properties. When moxa is burned, these compounds are released and absorbed through the skin and inhaled, contributing to the therapeutic effects.