Facts About Moxibustion

By Dr. Dongfeng Zhou, AP, DAOM

Facts About Moxibustion

Also known as the moxa treatment, moxibustion is a therapy that involves the application of burning mugwort leaves on certain parts of the body. On the other hand, mugwort is a type of flowering plant commonly known as Artemisia vulgaris. The plant is believed to have some medicinal value; little wonder it is used for treating numerous ailments. Before it is used for the therapeutic procedure, the plant is crushed to a fluff. In some cases, the specialists burn the fluff or make it into cigar-like sticks.

The therapy is often combined with acupuncture therapy. In fact, many therapists believe that the essence of the homegrown remedy is to stimulate acupoints. It is native to China, Japan, Tibet, Vietnam, and a host of other Asian countries. Since 500 BCE, there has been a long-held belief among the Chinese that the therapy helps in treating several ailments. Proponents maintain that burning the plant and applying it to the skin can strengthen the blood, improve the flow of Qi (natural energy), and help the body attain overall wellbeing. During the process, the patient often experiences a heating sensation, but it doesn’t last for too long.

How Does Moxibustion Work?

To better understand how it works, you need to understand various moxibustion techniques. The two common methods are explained below.

Direct Moxibustion: Here, the specialist makes a cone-shaped quantity of moxa and places it on the acupoints. This comes in two forms, scarring and non-scarring. For the scarring method, the moxa burns on the acupoints until it is completely out. However, that is not the case with the non-scarring subtype. Here, the specialist places moxa on the acupoint and lights it. But then, the light doesn’t burn out because it is removed before it burns out.

Indirect Moxibustion: This is the burning of dried wormwood plants above the skin surface. The therapist burns one end of the moxa end (or cone) and holds it close to the part of the infected skin for a couple of minutes. The moment your skin begins to turn red, you can feel the heat sensation.

At this point, the therapist removes it. There are cases where it is combined with needles. In this case, the tip of the moxa is wrapped and lighted, creating heat around the skin and initiating the healing process. Sometimes, it is done on mediators, such as ginger, moxa cones, walnut-shell moxa glasses, turtle shell, radish, orange peel, salt, garlic, etc. Experts say that the indirect method is used to treat over 100 ailments. In Western medicine, this type is applied to areas like gynecology, urology, pediatrics, dermatology, etc. It is also common today because it lowers the risk of pain or burning.


This remedy is still used in many parts of the world because it has numerous benefits. As stated earlier, it helps to circulate Qi in the body. This is possible because the skin feels the heat through the meridians. The moment the energy begins to flow, the remedy can heal a lot of ailments, including back pain, arthritis, headaches, muscles, tendonitis, ulcer, menstrual cramps, cancer, and digestive problems. From the foregoing, the age-long technique has several applications. Despite the advancement of evidence-based medicine, researchers have also shown that the traditional therapy is still effective (as you will see shortly).


You are probably wondering, “Does moxibustion really work?” Yes, it does. In short, there are several studies in the public domain that demonstrate its efficacy. One of such studies is the one by Myeong Soo Lee, a researcher at the Korean Institute of Oriental Medicine (KIOM). Lee and his team analyzed 10 different studies on the subject. Those studies cut across how the traditional remedy was used to treat several conditions, including cancer, ulcerative colitis, stroke, constipation, etc. While drawing their conclusion, the team stated that the technique was effective.

Another way to look at its efficacy is to examine its success rate. In one study, an obstetrician and gynecologist, Dr. Ayman Ewies, carried out extensive research to determine its success rate on breech version or external cephalic version (ECV). At the end of the exhaustive research, the UK-based obstetrician and gynecologist concluded that when it is applied after 34 weeks of gestation, the traditional technique has an 84.6% success rate.

Does Moxibustion have Side Effects?

In 2014, Ji Xu, Hongyong Deng and Xueyong Shen carried out a systematic review of existing meta-analyses to unravel the adverse effects of the healing technique. The team reviewed 24 medical reports that were performed in six countries. At the end of the analysis, they noted that the traditional remedy has the following adverse effects:

  • Allergies and burns

  • Fetal distress

  • Skin cancer

  • Infection and coughing

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Premature birth.

However, the team cross-examined the reports to find out where the adverse effects could have emanated from. In conclusion, they emphasized that though the traditional treatment has some adverse effects, consulting a certified specialist to carry it out can avert those negative effects.

Last Words

So far, this piece has walked you through the most important facts you need to know about moxibustion. From the foregoing, specialists or acupuncturists can use this therapy to treat numerous disorders. Those are the benefits of the remedy and its success rate explains why many people still turn to it to date. However, it is not advisable to overlook its side effects because doing so amounts to throwing caution to the wind. In fact, many therapists say that even though the therapy is effective for treating many ailments, it can potentially be a dangerous therapy. The good thing, however, is that you can avert all that if you get in touch with an expert. Do you want to learn more or schedule a session? Whichever is the case, you can do so by getting in touch with our acupuncture specialists in your area now.


Ewies A, Olah K. Moxibustion in breech version – a descriptive review. Acupunct Med. 2002 Mar; 20 (1): 2 – 9
Lee MS, Kang JW, Ernst E. Does moxibustion work? An overview of systematic reviews. BMC Res Notes. 2010 Nov. 5; 3:284
Xu J, Deng H, Shen X. Safety of moxibustion: a systematic review of case reports. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2014 May 2; 2014:78704.
Brennan D. What is Moxibustion? Revised June 23, 2021. Accessed October 15, 2021.
Moxibustion. Britannica. Accessed October 15, 2021.


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