Acupuncture & Moxibustion

Moxibustion is an acupunctural practice that isn’t very well-known, despite this, it is still an aspect of the practice that can trace its roots back to ancient China. Interestingly moxibustion is a part of acupuncture that, while retaining the essential principals of the practice, does not necessarily require the use of needles.

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a technique that involves the burning of a particular herb known as moxa or Mugwort. Moxa is prepared into sticks that are easily and safely burned, and during a treatment these sticks are held alight a couple of inches away from a target acupoint. The heat generated from the moxa is what is meant to stimulate recovery.  

Moxibustion has many applications, the most significant of which is probably the turning of babies born in breech. During childbirth the baby’s position is important both for their own health and that of the mother. The correct position (also known as the cephalic position) will have a baby in a head down position, and any other orientation would be described as a breech birth.

Acupuncturists can use moxibustion to trigger an acupoint on the smallest toe called Bladder 67 (often abbreviated to B67). Stimulating this point is thought to trigger muscles in the womb (the uterus), causing them to relax and allow the baby to reposition his or herself.

It is important to remember that if you are opting for moxibustion during childbirth, you do so after speaking to your doctor or midwife. While acupuncture can be useful, it should not be seen as a replacement for conventional medical treatment. There are a number of instances where moxibustion might not be safe, and there are alternatives to this technique that have been tried and tested, and can safely reposition a baby in breech.  

If it doesn’t use needles, is moxibustion still a form of acupuncture?

Despite the absence of needles, moxibustion remains a form of acupuncture because it still relies on the basic principle of acupunctural treatment: the stimulation of acupoints to treat a patient. Needles are just a means by which acupuncture is performed, and as moxibustion stimulates an acupoint, it is another tool in the arsenal of the practicing acupuncturist.

When to use moxibustion

Moxibustion should not be used in the following circumstances as they pose a more serious medical concern:

  • If a mother has any history of APH (antepartum haemorrhage), where a pregnant woman has experienced bleeding from the birth canal after the 24th week of pregnancy.
  • If a pregnant women is suffering from a complication known as placenta previa, where the placenta (a structure responsible for the exchange of blood between mother and child) develops in an abnormally low position which obstructs the entrance of the womb (the cervix).
  • Women who have given birth to premature babies or are carrying twins or triplets.
  • Any pregnancy involving a structural or functional abnormality of the womb or any structure involved in childbirth.
  • Pregnant women with oligohydramnios, a condition where there is less amniotic fluid in the womb than usual, or the opposite condition polyhydramnios.
  • Pregnancies involving rhesus disease (where an antibody incompatibility threatens the pregnancy).
  • Women previously subject to a caesarean section (C-section) for any reason that is not a breech birth.

If you do not fall into any of these categories, you should still speak to your doctor or midwife prior to pursuing moxibustion. Otherwise the best time to use this technique is thought to be at about 34 weeks into the pregnancy. This may vary from practice to practice, but generally speaking acupuncturists will try and time the treatment to this point.

Typically speaking moxibustion requires just the one session which will involve teaching a patient how to apply the treatment to themselves up to 3 times a day for as long as 10 days. The treatment can stimulate a great deal of movement from the baby.

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