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What is moxibustion?



Moxibustion is the application of heat to acupuncture points and is one of the oldest and most effective forms of oriental therapy. It is a technique that originated in China and was introduced to Japan more than a thousand years ago. There are two different types of moxibustion: direct and indirect. Japanese Acupuncturists adopted both methods but prefer to use direct moxibustion because of its effectiveness. Direct moxibustion has almost disappeared from Chinese Acupuncture techniques.

Both direct and indirect methods create heat by burning moxa, an herb derived from drying the underside of the mugwort plant's leaves. Mugwort is part of the chrysanthemum family. Great variation occurs in the grade of moxa available for therapeutic practice. Japanese moxibustion uses the highest grade of pure moxa possible, which allows for its application directly on the skin

Direct moxibustion is applied by using the fingers to roll a small amount of moxa into the size of a sesame seed or half of a grain of rice. This piece is then placed on the skin at an acupuncture point and burned with a special type of incense. The result is an intense, penetrating heat that stimulates the acupuncture point involved without being uncomfortable for the patient. Discomfort is minimized because 1) only extra-pure moxa is used and 2) the moxa is rolled into the smallest size possible.

Direct moxibustion achieves clinical effectiveness through its cauterization (burning) effect and its deep penetrating heat, effects which indirect methods are not likely to achieve. When moxa burns the skin, it causes an elevation in blood cell counts (especially that of white blood cells). This cauterization effect strengthens one's immunity. Also, the burning of moxa directly on the skin produces a deep, penetrating heat that is very effective in reducing pain and inflammation.

Moxibustion is best combined with Acupuncture but, when done alone, can also achieve excellent results. In Japan, moxibustion is used for the treatment of a wide range of disorders, especially neurological and musculo-skeletal ones. It is also used regularly for the prevention of "dis"ease and the maintenance of health and well being.

Only in Japan are there separate licenses for the practise of acupuncture and moxibustion.  This requires practitioners to uphold a high standard of training in moxibustion therapy.  While it a technique adjunct to acupunture outside of Japan, moxibustion therapy in Japan requires a higher degree of specialization to obtain a National licence.


Direct Moxibustion

Like acupuncture, moxibustion has been used on domestic animals for thousands of years. In today's Japan, dairy cattle and racehorses are regular moxibustion clients of veterinarians. The following information is taken from the North American Journal of Oriental Medicine, No. 13 and was written by Bunzo Takamatsu, D.O.M., L.Ac.

Dr. Torashige Hosaka, D.V.M. has been doing moxibustion extensively on cows for around twenty years in Kyushu, Japan. Dr. Hosaka tries moxibustion on all kinds of illnesses, from digestive problems, reproductive problems and musculo-skeletal problems to urinary problems. He found moxibustion effective for most problems and often used it in combination with Western medicine.

One dairy farmer, who was having great difficulty with his herd's infertility problems, found a cure in moxibustion and became a great fan of it. He summarized the effects of moxibustion, when it came to reproductive problems in cows, as follows:

1. It became easy to tell the time of estrus and hence easier to impregnate.

2. The cows became less susceptible to mastitis.

3. It eliminated the problem of parturient paresis.

4. There was much less incidence of retained placenta.

There is no doubt that moxibustion works, but there are still many things unknown about the mechanism of it. We can deduce what it does by studying many of the case histories available to us.

Dr. Hosaka summarizes the actions of moxibustion as follows:

1. Moxibustion normalizes the function of the autonomic nervous system. Mainly, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, promoting peristaltic motion in the intestines, contraction of the uterus, contraction of the bladder, etc.

2. Moxibustion stimulates the immune system. Its cauterizing action stimulates an immune response.

3. Moxibustion also promotes hormone secretion. Cows without estrus for over 100 days have estrus within a week after moxibustion. A 20% increase in milk production is common after moxibustion. A very interesting fact is that moxibustion seems to stimulate hormone secretions when they are too low and represses them when they are too high. This leads us to the next principle of moxibustion.

4. Moxibustion has a double adjustment function or autonomic adjustment function. For example, moxibustion for constipation makes stools softer and normalizes bowel movement, and for diarrhea it makes stools harder and normalizes bowel movement. It seems moxa has a homeostatic effect on the body, causing a perfect physiologic balance.

5. Moxibustion makes the problems of the body more apparent. It makes an unclear condition more distinguishable and easier to handle.

Bovine Moxibustion

There are nine basic moxibustion points used by Dr. Hosaka on cows. The application of the moxibustion is as follows: First, make moxa balls about the size of ping-pong balls. Second, secure the head of the cow. Third, tie the tail to the leg so that the cow does not whip off the moxa balls with its tail. Fourth, put miso (soy bean paste) on all the points. This has two purposes. One is to secure the moxa balls. The other is to avoid burns of the skin. I would suggest using aloe jelly. Now it is ready to go. It takes from 5 to 10 minutes for a moxa ball to burn. Be very careful about the fire!

Chinese herbs and folk medicine have historically successfully treated a common problem like mastitis. Nowadays solely antibiotics treat it. Naturally the bacteria acquire resistance and new antibiotics are required. This becomes a vicious cycle. It is no longer a joke that mastitis is harder to cure where there is the newest test equipment and technology. In spite of the higher cost, nothing has improved much when it comes to actual healing. Over-dosage of hormones for reproductive problems can easily become a vicious cycle too. Humans now may have caused many of the problems cows have.

Is our situation much different from that of a cow's? Are we really in charge of our health? No matter how much our technology progresses, we should always keep one thing in mind. That is, as a rule and as much as we can, we should try to maintain good health for ourselves. Moxibustion, which can be done by anyone and is so effective, could be a very reliable means toward that goal.


Basic Bovine Moxibustion Points

What can I expect during a treatment?

During the course of an acupuncture treatment, our clinic uses Japanese needles, which are much thinner than Chinese needles. This means that discomfort is rarely experienced during treatment and if there is discomfort, it is very minimal.
All needles are disposable and come packaged and pre-sterilized with ethylene oxide gas. New needles are used with each visit. Acupuncture has no adverse effects or risks.



image of Disposable Press-tack needles.
Acupuncture with disposable filiform needle

How many treatments will be required?


The number of treatments will vary with each individual and the condition being treated. For acute problems, only a few treatments may be required. In some cases, one treatment will be sufficient. For complex or long-standing conditions, one or two treatments a week for several weeks may be recommended with less frequent treatments necessary as improvement occurs.

As in any form of healing, the patient's attitude, diet, determination and lifestyle will affect the outcome of a course of treatment. Oriental medicine is also an educational process in which the patient becomes more aware of his or her own body, thus increasing its ability to maintain well being.

Ideally, acupuncture and shiatsu therapy is used as preventive medicine. Depending on each patient's lifestyle, regular weekly or monthly treatments can keep both body and mind in balance.


Must I believe in it for acupuncture to work?

No. Acupuncture has been widely used to treat a variety of domestic animals such as horses, cattle and dogs. In Japan, it is regularly used with success to treat cattle and racehorses. These animals are immune to the placebo effect and to the psychosomatic element of therapy. This means that it is the insertion of needles into specific points, itself, that works. While a positive attitude may enhance it, a negative attitude will not block the effects of acupuncture.


Horse Acupuncture Points from the Bagyuiho (A Chinese Horse and Cow Acupuncture Text), 1399

What can be treated?


Acupuncture has analgesic, relaxing, toning, balancing, and restorative effects on the body. Some conditions that are successfully treated include:

Headache & Migraine
Occipital neuralgia
Pelade (Patchy hair-loss)
Facial palsy
Dry or tired eyes
Sinusitis & Congestion
Earache & Tinnitus
TMJ (Jaw pain)
Pre-operative dental pain management
Post-operative dental pain
Whiplash injury
Neck & shoulder pain
Frozen shoulder
TOS (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome)
Tennis elbow & Golfer's elbow
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Numbness in hands
Rib & back pain
Intercostal neuralgia
Buttocks, Tailbone & groin pain
CPP (Chronic Pelvic Pain)
Knee pain
Cramp in the calf
Achilles tendon pain
Ankle sprain
Plantar fasciitis (Foot pain) 
Stress fracture
Myofascial pain
Muscle strain
Muscle tension
Rehabilitation from injury and surgery
Rehabilitation from stroke
Post-operative & chemotherapy nausea & vomiting
PMS (Pre-Menstrual Syndrome incl. menstrual cramps)
Other menstrual irregularities
Infertility (Sterility)
Discomforts of pregnancy (after the fourth month)
Breech fetal positioning
Labor induction and easier delivery
Insufficient milk production
Poor circulation (Cold hands & feet)
External hemorrhoids
IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
Stress-related digestive disorders (incl. stomach ulcer)
Normalizing bowel function (incl. diarrhea & constipation)
Minor anxiety
Minor depression
Chronic Fatigue
Facial rejuvenation (Acupuncture face lift or Cosmetic acupuncture)

The World Health Organization (WHO) Seminar made the following provisional list of diseases that may be helped with acupuncture treatment. This list is based on clinical experience and not necessarily on controlled clinical research. The inclusion of specific diseases is not meant to indicate the extent of acupuncture's effectiveness in treating them.

Over 50 commonly encountered clinical disorders that lend themselves to acupuncture treatment include:

NOSE AND THROAT DISORDERS such as acute sinusitis, acute rhinitis, the common cold and acute tonsillitis.

RESPIRATORY DISORDERS such as acute bronchitis and bronchial asthma (especially in children and in patients without complicating diseases).

EYE DISORDERS such as acute conjunctivitis, central retinitis, myopia (in children) and cataracts (without complications).

MOUTH DISORDERS such as toothache, post-extraction pain, gingivitis and acute or chronic pharyngitis.

GASTRO-INTESTINAL DISORDERS such as spasms of the esophagus and cardia, hiccough, gastroptosis, acute and chronic gastritis, gastric hyperacidity, chronic duodenal ulcer (pain relief), acute duodenal ulcer (without complications), acute and chronic colitis, acute bacillary dysentery, constipation, diarrhea and paralytic ileus.

NEUROLOGICAL AND MUSCULO-SKELETAL DISORDERS such as headache, migraine, trigeminal neuralgia, facial palsy (within 3-6 months of onset), pareses following stroke, peripheral neuropathies, sequelae of poliomyelitis (within 6 months of onset), Ménière's disease, neurogenic bladder dysfunction, nocturnal enuresis, intercostal neuralgia, cervicobrachial syndrome, "frozen shoulder", "tennis elbow", sciatica, low back pain, osteoarthritis and dizziness.

CIRCULATORY DISORDERS such as hypertension, angina pectoris, arteriosclerosis and anemia.

UROGENITAL DISORDERS such as stress incontinence, urinary tract infections and sexual dysfunction.

GYNECOLOGICAL DISORDERS such as irregular, heavy or painful menstruation, infertility in women and men, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL DISORDERS including depression and anxiety.

ADDICTIONS such as alcohol, nicotine and drugs.


Masamichi (Daichan) Shibata, R.Ac., Vancouver, BC. Registered Acupuncturist 


image of treatment 1
Inserting intra-dermal needle with tweezers

image of treatment 2
Acupuncture with filiform needle