Moxibustion is a kind of external treatment; it is based upon the theory of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and involves exposing certain areas of the body to the emissions of burning moxa wool.
According to TCM, it can dredge meridians and regulate both qi and blood. It has been used to prevent and cure disease for more than 2500 years and has been applied in the treatment of many illnesses.
Indications for its use include:
- Urinary incontinence
- Temporomandibular joint disturbance syndrome
- Soft tissue injury
- Heel pain
- Urinary retention
- Herpes zoster
- Aging related problems
Modern research involving moxibustion started in the early years of the last century. In 1912, Japanese scholars began to study the physical characteristics of moxa and its effects on blood pressure and intestinal peristalsis. Up to this day, there have been an increasing number of studies relating to its effects on the human body, or that of experimental animals, that involve almost all of the major physiological systems. At the same time, research work pertaining to its functional mechanism also gradually developed, mainly related to its thermal and radiative effects as well as to the pharmacological actions of its combustion products.
The thermal effect of moxibustion has a close relation to the warm receptors (WRs) and/or the polymodal receptors (PRs) of tissues. Its antipyretic and thermolytic effects are achieved by stimulating polymodal receptors leading to vasoconstriction at the point of treatment and vasodilatation around its periphery. Both arterial blood flow and microvascular permeability are enhanced. Another thermal effect of moxibustion is the induction of heat shock proteins (HSPs) in local tissues. HSPs are a class of functionally related proteins involved in the folding and unfolding of other proteins. As an endogenous protective mechanism, HSPs are synthesized in cells in response to hyperthermia and other environmental stresses. The HSPs induced by moxibustion may be an important factor of its mechanism of action.
Infrared energy acting on the body produces both thermal and non-thermal effects. Non-thermal near infra-red (NIR) energy is generally believed to play a major role in the biological effect of moxibustion. When NIR irradiates the body, energy is transmitted approximately 10 mm deep into the skin where it is absorbed.
NIR can induce some active substances within the tissues and see them distributed to other parts of the body with the circulation of blood, in this way enhancing the metabolism and thermogenesis of organs that are reached at distant sites. NIR can also energize the metabolism of cells. Energy generated by the photoelectric effect and photochemical process can be passed through the nerve-humoral system and can activate pathological cells that lack energy while further adjusting the body’s immune and neurological functions.
Adapted excerpt from:
Deng, Hongyong, Shen Xueyong. “The Mechanism of Moxibustion: Ancient Theory and Modern Research.”
Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Vol. 2013, Article ID 379291. 03/08/2013.