Moxibustion is an Oriental medical treatment in Bellingham that has been practiced in China for thousands of years and other East Asian countries and for over a hundred years, the rest of the world. It is a form of heat therapy used as a way to prevent or treat ailments and diseases.
Moxibustion involves the burning of a small, spongy herb called mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris) very close to the skin at energy channels (acupoints) to promote healing and restore the smooth movement of vital energy or qi in the body.
In a commonly applied moxibustion procedure, the moxa is shaped into a small pillar that’s placed in a cylindrical hollow base and set on an acupoint. The base has tiny holes that allow heat and smoke from the smoldering moxa to escape and make contact with the acupoint.
Chinese researchers did a study to scientifically prove the effectiveness of moxibustion in relieving knee osteoarthritis pain. They recruited 100 people all suffering from painful knee osteoarthritis. Genuine moxibustion treatment was administered on 50 percent of the participants while the other half was given a sham treatment. Both groups received their respective treatments thrice a week for six weeks. In the sham treatment, moxa was burned in its cylinder but the holes at the bottom of the cylinder were covered by a secret internal membrane that prevented the heat and smoke to escape. All the participants were unaware of the type of treatment (genuine or sham) they were getting. The therapists who administered the treatments were also were kept in the dark of what type of treatment they were giving their patients in order to prevent any biases that may compromise the results of the study.
Within three weeks of the study, the group treated with genuine moxibustion, on average, registered a 25 percent decrease in pain, while the sham treatment group merely showed a 3 percent decrease. Decrease in pain, by the end of treatment, in the real moxibustion group more than doubled to 53 percent while it was 24 percent in the sham group. These outcomes lingered for quite a while after the end of the study. Twenty four weeks after the end of the study, the members of the real moxibustion group reported 51 percent less pain than before the study, while members in the sham group experienced 20 percent less pain.
In the use of their knee, the participants also showed an improvement in that aspect. Function rose by 40 percent six weeks after the end of the study in the moxibustion group and after six weeks, by 50 percent. For the sham group, function increased by just 12 percent six weeks after the end of the study and saw no more improvement beyond that.
Here’s a helpful time marker for anyone hoping to better an arthritic knee,—in terms of function, the improvement level for knee osteoarthritis started to go down 18 weeks after the study, indicating that six weeks of moxibustion therapy can have healing effects that could last 4.5 months.
The only negative effect of moxibustion was the temporal redness at the site of treatment.
All of these are obviously, sensational outcomes. Science cannot explain how and why moxibustion works, although one theory states that the heat produced by the smoldering moxa activates the skin at the acupoint that, in turn, triggers the nervous system to produce and release endorphins, the natural feel good hormones of the body that obstruct the feeling of pain. One other theory is that the heat produced by the moxa, which is not that strong enough to bring about injury, can be irritating enough so as to activate the body into launching a healing response. Tradition is the answer if you’ll ask why moxa is used rather than any number of herbs. The burning of moxa is believed to bring about a warming therapeutic effect on the body that fosters pain relief and blood circulation in Chinese medicine.