Alternative Acupuncture Techniques

While most widely known for its use of needles as fine as human hair, acupuncture is not restricted to needling to achieve its therapeutic goals. There are in fact two examples of acupuncture practices that are do not involve the invasive insertion of needles, and these are discussed and explored in this article.


Moxibustion is an alternative method of stimulating acupuncture points, specific parts of the body which acupuncture aims to stimulate to restore health. Each acupuncture point is associated with a channel responsible for the transport of Qi, a life energy which the ancient Chinese believed to be essential to good health. Needling is the usual method by which these points are stimulated, however, in some instances an acupuncturist may opt to burn a herb called moxa instead.

Moxa is also known by its Latin name Artemis vulgaris or the more colloquial term Mugwort. The herb is processed prior to burning, and this involves grinding moxa leaves to form a compacted shape or fine wool which can easily be burned.

Moxibustion is the practice of burning the herb about 1 cm away from an acupuncture point. In doing so, an acupuncturist hopes to alleviate symptoms affecting the part of the body represented by that specific acupuncture point .

Moxibustion can also be carried out indirectly by some practitioners. IN these cases, a piece of garlic or ginger is placed on top of a specific acupuncture point. A small piece of moxa wool is then placed on top of this and burnt.

This practice can also be formed using a needle, where a small piece of moxa wool is placed on top of a needle and burnt, allowing its heat to travel through the needle and into the acupuncture point in question.

These techniques are used to relieve abdominal pain shock, arthritis, bronchitis, and in some cases to help turn a baby in breech. Babies need to be in a particular, head down position (referred to medically as the cephalic presentation) to facilitate a safe and healthy birth. Where babies aren’t in this position, they are described as being in breech (usually with their feet or their bum facing downwards rather than their head). Breech births present a number of risks to both mother and child, not the least of which is the risk of injury and prolonged labour.

There are a number of different methods of turning a baby in breech, one of which relies on moxibustion. Moxibustion should only be used if approved by your medical care team (your midwife and doctor), and in support of your existing medical care.


Cupping is another acupunctural discipline that doesn’t necessarily make use of needles to achieve its goals. The treatment gets its name from the use of cups to stimulate blood flow, and through that, improve healing.

A cup is placed on top of an acupuncture point, and suction is generated through either the application of heat or a pump. Heat is the traditional method of stimulating the cupping process, and what happens is that once the air within the cup has become warm enough, and the rim of the cup then placed on a patient’s skin, an airtight seal is formed as the air cools and contracts to create a vacuum. The force of the vacuum pulls on both the skin and its underlying structures, drawing blood to the area and effectively stimulating blood flow.

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