Monday, September 24, 2012

Marvels of Moxa

My hand isn't actually this big--it's the angle!
I often feel the need to kick myself when I suffer needlessly from something I know how to fix. I usually think of all  the possibilities for my patients, but when I'm the one who's sick or hurting, my memory is not as wonderful. Today was one of those 'kick me' days. I have felt listless, tired, and achy off and on for a week or so, and yesterday had a headache and thought I was catching a cold. After moping around for the morning, I remembered the marvels of moxibustion.

Most people have heard of acupuncture, but far fewer have heard of moxa, a blend of herbs usually including a type of artemisia that is used in Chinese medicine to treat many different problems. It is used to warm areas that are cold or deficient, or to move qi and blood in areas that are painful or where there is trauma. Some of the many problems acupuncturists treat with moxibustion include infertility, arthritis, general fatigue or weakness, bed-wetting, heavy menstrual bleeding, and any kind of trauma.

The moxa can be held over a point, placed on a needle, or even burned in tiny amounts just on the skin. Our clinic uses indirect moxa held over a point because there is the least risk of burning the patient with this technique. In the picture above, I used a tiny moxa stick attached to an adhesive on a point on my hand. These tiny pieces of moxa do not get super-hot, and can be removed if they get too warm. As I burned several sticks on various parts of my hand, and used a thin stick of moxa near points on my feet, I began to feel stronger, warmer, and more energized. My neck, which had been stiff and achy, began to relax and move easily. When used properly, the warmth and properties of moxa will energize you while making you feel relaxed at the same time.

Moxa comes in several forms. Most look vaguely like cigarettes. The picture on the left is of a loosely rolled moxa. I don't use this type often because it smokes a lot and, frankly, stinks. 

Thin Moxa Sticks

Most of the moxa  I use is compressed into a very tight roll. It is hard to light, but makes very little smoke.  It has some odor, but it is not pronounced and dissipates quickly. I especially use very thin rolls of moxa. While there are good reasons to use larger ones, my office treats a lot of patients with chemical sensitivities, so we do whatever we can to minimize the chances of a sensitive patient encountering an allergen such as smoke.

When using moxa on patients, we get the moxa stick lighted, then hold it over points to warm them. When the point is deficient, meaning it feels weak and/or cold, we hold it steady to build the warmth up just until it is slightly uncomfortable, then move to another area. When the area is in excess, such as when something is strained or swollen, we move the moxa stick around frequently over the larger area to encourage energy to move.

Often people feel an immediate improvement in their symptoms after moxa, but not always. Sometimes it takes several treatments to begin to feel stronger or in less pain. If you need moxa, we usually do several sessions before evaluating its effectiveness. Depending on what your symptoms and diagnoses are, we may need to do moxa often to maintain improvements.

If you have any symptoms of fatigue, poor appetite, listlessness, chronic pain or a recent injury, ask your acupuncturist about moxibustion. As I was reminded today, it can be a real help!

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