Kennington Osteopaths & Physiotherapy, 2-4 Cleaver St, Oval, London SE11 4DP


Bartosz Gorecki MD, L.Ac.

When you talk about acupuncture, you cannot omit moxibustion. They are inseparable and moxibustion, especially in Japanese acupuncture,  is often used to enhance the effects of the acupuncture treatment. Thanks to its simplicity and effectiveness, throughout the history not only professionals but also ordinary people widely used moxibustion.

And with success.

But what exactly moxibustion is?

Moxibustion is a technique of heating acupuncture points on the body by burning a herb close to the skin. This technique can be used alone or in combination with acupuncture. The Chinese character for acupuncture literally means “acupuncture-moxibustion.” Moxibustion, so acupuncture, is an external healing method well – grounded in Chinese medicine.

In moxibustion we use a dried herb called moxa which, while burning, produces heat. Your skin then absorbs this heat which penetrates your whole body. The heat strengthens the movement and production of Qi and blood, which are essential to provide a good balance and health for your body.

And what herb is used for moxa?

The herb used for moxibustion is Chinese mugwort (Lat. Artemisia agryi, Chin. Ai Ye). Mugwort is a group of plants which consist of several species. As mugwort contains essential oils it is widely known for its therapeutic effects. Its components may vary depending on a place they grow and climate.

The mugwort used in treatment is prepared: pulverised and aged. Sometimes other herbs are mixed into moxa to widen the effect of moxibustion.

Has moxibustion got scientific grounding?

As acupuncture becomes more popular, scientists are keen to investigate its therapeutic effects. The same is true for moxibustion. Scientists have found that burning moxa produces consistent infrared radiation, which penetrates the body to the subcutaneous layer.

This is the place of greatest density of receptors, nerves, blood and lymphatic vessels. It’s also a space where acupuncture points are localised. The radiation produces certain substances which are absorbed by the vessels and nerves and then transported to the distal areas of the body. Radiation also boosts metabolism of the cells so that produced energy can be transported to those cells which are deficient in energy.

What moxibustion can cure?

Through centuries doctors and common people widely used moxibustion to cure many conditions. Classical medicine books mention 350 diseases which can be cured with this method. Modern science proves its therapeutic effects on almost all major systems like: circulation, digestion, nerves, reproduction, hormones, etc. With special focus on pain control, boosting immunity and anti-ageing. Moxibustion has also been successfully applied in hot flashes, ulcerative colitis and breech birth.

So how can you apply moxibustion yourself?

Direct and indirect moxibustion

Generally, you can use moxibustion in two ways: directly (burning moxa on the skin) and indirectly (burning it over the skin).

Direct moxibustion

burning moxa cones on woman's back

Direct method requires advanced skills and is used mainly by professionals. An acupuncturist can burn moxa cones on the slices of ginger, garlic, salt or seashells. Or can apply moxa directly on skin.

This is called okyu – Japanese method consisting of burning very small moxa cones, the size of a rice grain, directly on the skin which is protected from burning by a special cream. You will have a sensation of a tiny insect’s bite. But after such treatment you won’t have any marks left on your skin.

The second method, indirect moxibustion, can also be used by non-professionals or patients like you. It can be applied on certain acupuncture points depending on your condition. I strongly advise to ask your therapist which points are best for you…

Indirect moxibustion

In indirect method therapeutic effects are mainly achieved by the heat, not by radiation like in direct method. So the effects are limited to the actual place of application.

Indirect moxibustion you mostly apply over wider and cold areas of the body. That can be aching muscles, joints caused by sprains or strains, lower back when it aches.

You can apply indirect moxa to solve some problems with digestion like bloating, with bladder like urinary track infections or with uterus like painful menstruation, especially when you feel cold and lack energy.

Disadvantage of the method is huge amount of smoke. So if want to use it you have to do it either outdoors or in very well-ventilated rooms. There are also smokeless cigars which you can use alternatively.

In my practice I use Tiger Warmer. It’s a handy little device you can take wherever you go. It uses little moxa sticks so the amount of smoke is very little and it smells nicely, like an incense.

By applying heat and pressure on acupuncture points you achieve therapeutic effects. It is very simple and effective way to help yourself or close ones, including children, in many situations.

To name just a few: cold, sinusitis, allergies, painful or irregular periods, strains or sprains, etc.