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A Guide to Easing Aches and Pains with Moxibustion

An image of someone performing moxibustionMedications can be helpful for those run-of-the-mill aches and pains that seem to occur more often as you get older. But if you're tired of popping pills to soothe pain and looking for another way, one that doesn’t include potentially dangerous medications, then you need to know about moxibustion.

This therapy is a type of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), and it might be just what you’re looking for to ease annoying aches and pains.

What Is Moxibustion?

TCM has a lot of different options that can help relieve pain including moxibustion. This is a form of therapy that combines acupuncture and moxa, which is a mugwort herb therapy. On their own, these two remedies can help restore the natural balance and flow of energy in your body. So, when you combine them, they can be very soothing and pain relieving.

This therapy is said to work by encouraging the free flow of energy through the body’s meridians. In TCM, meridians are channels that connect the organs to points in the arms and legs. And according to TCM, when the flow of energy through these channels is obstructed, it can lead to a range of diseases and health problems.

What to Expect in a Moxibustion Session

Before this therapy, your TCM practitioner will examine your body and take a full history to determine where the moxa should be applied. Once the therapy starts, the practitioner will roll the dried mugwort herb into the shape of a cigar and light it. They will then hold the herb just above certain meridian points on the body. You don’t have to worry about being burned during this stage, as a buffer is applied between the burning herb and the skin. The herbs can also be rolled into small shapes and placed on top of acupuncture needles that have been inserted into the skin.

Alternatively, your TCM therapist may also insert the acupuncture needles first and follow up with moxa. This is done by putting moxa sticks on anti-burn jelly to prevent burns or by putting the burning moxa in a box that protects the skin.

The History of Moxibustion

The roots of moxibustion go back thousands of years in China. The meridians, which are stimulated through the therapy, were first identified prior to 168 BC in China. And ever since, practitioners have used acupuncture and other therapies to encourage the open flow of qi or energy through these channels.

The first mention of moxibustion has been found in a text called The Ancient Medical Relics of Matvangdui, which dates back to the same period. In that text is a description of a practitioner burning dried mugwort herb on or near the meridian points.

Acupuncture as a therapy to manipulate these meridian points was first mentioned in a medical text later, during the Western Han Dynasty, which dates back to 206 B.C.–9 A.D.

It's only fairly recently that these two therapies have been combined to enhance the effects of each.

Is Moxibustion Safe?

Before you undergo moxibustion therapy, you’ll need to have a long talk with a TCM practitioner. Here’s what they’ll do:

An image of a TCM practitioner checking a patient's vitals

  • Take a full history
  • Ask about your symptoms
  • Make sure you don’t have any existing conditions that could make the therapy problematic
  • Ask about medications you’re taking

It’s important that you’re completely honest during this process, to ensure your safety and health. You may not be able to have this therapy if you have:

  • An open wound
  • A respiratory condition that might be aggravated by the smoke

How to Find a Trustworthy Practitioner

Finding a trustworthy TCM practitioner isn’t always easy. Here’s what to look for when choosing your practitioner:

  • The credentials “LAc” behind their name, which means they’re licensed
  • Board certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
  • Strict hygiene procedures at their practice

Once you’ve chosen your practitioner, schedule an appointment just to talk with them. Make sure that they have performed moxibustion before and can do it safely and in ways that most benefit your body.

The Benefits of Moxibustion

Moxibustion is a holistic treatment that works to alleviate pain and discomfort by improving the health and functioning of your whole body. Results can be extremely individual, based on your body and its condition. You may also experience some benefits from this therapy that seem completely unconnected to your original complaints.

Previous studies have shown that this therapy can have the following effects:

  • Reduced menstrual pain and cramping
  • Improved sleep quality
  • Reduced chronic pain related to shoulder, musculoskeletal, and osteoarthritis pain
  • Reduced pain from chronic headaches
  • Increased circulation
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Increased range of motion and flexibility
  • Reductions in chronic muscle and joint pain

The smell of the moxa, which is sweet and herbal, can also be very soothing and calming, which may help to improve your mood.

In some cases, moxibustion has also been used to help alleviate infertility by supplying warmth to the uterus. A small study has shown that it may help with embryo implantation by increasing endometrial thickness. However, if you are struggling with infertility, then you need to see your doctor to learn about all your options. You also shouldn’t attempt to take this alternative treatment if there’s any chance that you’re already pregnant.

Adrenal Fatigue, Stress, and Pain

Everyday aches and pains can occur for almost any reason. They’re very common in people as they get older but can also occur as a result of injuries, disease, and general poor health. This kind of poor health is strongly linked to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

The ongoing stress that you experience because of modern life can severely impact the health and balance of the body. When you’re stressed, it activates the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response. This prompts the release of cortisol from the adrenal glands. The high cortisol levels then make changes in the body’s organ systems that help you survive and respond to the cause of the stress. And when the stress is over, the NEM stress response shuts down and cortisol levels go back to normal, allowing the body’s circuits to do the same.

However, when stress is chronic, the NEM stress response remains active and cortisol levels stay high. This puts strain on the adrenal glands, which can start to fatigue. This also forces the body’s circuits, composed of related organ systems, to remain in their stressed state. This prolonged, state can cause the circuits and their components to become unbalanced and unhealthy.

Pain with Adrenal Fatigue

An image of a woman holding her back in painPain can be an important cause of the stress that brings on adrenal fatigue. It can also be because of the conditions and health problems associated with this condition. Some common issues that occur with AFS that can result in physical pain are:

Unfortunately, taking medications to solve this kind of pain might just make your underlying condition worse. Pain medications can be very powerful, too strong for a body that’s already fragile because of AFS. Here are some of the issues that can occur when taking pain medications when you have AFS:

  • An increased risk of side effects because of physical fragility.
  • An increased risk of paradoxical effects, which means that your pain medication may actually make your pain even worse.
  • Your body may struggle more to rid itself of the toxic effects of medications because of detoxification circuit malfunctions.

This is where therapies such as moxibustion can be helpful, because they can help to gently and safely resolve pain without causing additional stress. This therapy may also help to reduce inflammation and improve circulation in the body. Both of these effects may help to correct the imbalances brought about by AFS and support you on your journey to better health.

The Takeaway

Modern medicine really doesn’t know everything when it comes to pain relief. In fact, some commonly accepted pain medications can be much more dangerous than the aches and pains that they alleviate. If you’re looking for a safer remedy and one that has a long history behind it, why not try moxibustion? Here’s what you need to know about this therapy that comes from TCM:

  • Talk to your doctor before you try it to ensure that it’s right for you.
  • Make sure you choose a practitioner who’s fully licensed and experienced.
  • Have an introduction session first so you can discuss the therapy and how it might impact your health with your practitioner.

For more info on effective and gentle alternative and complementary therapies for pain and other complaints, talk to our team at +1 (626) 571-1234 for a free initial consultation, or click here.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Moxibustion is a therapy that falls under the banner of Traditional Chinese Medicine and has been around for hundreds of years. It combines herbs with acupuncture and is said to help increase circulation and reduce pain from a variety of different sources.

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