What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a gentle and safe traditional Chinese medical technique where a smouldering herb called moxa is used to warm areas on the body and specific acupuncture points. This eases tension in muscles, and warms and soothes the skin. When it is used on specific acupuncture points, it can trigger the brain to release neurochemical messenger molecules that influence how the body works. For example, it may trigger the body’s own healing response to treat illness.

The scientific name for the moxa herb is Artemisia argyi and it is a type of mugwort. Moxibustion therapy is often referred to as ‘moxa’ for short.

Moxa for breech babies

Moxa is traditionally used in China to help breech babies to turn from 34 weeks onwards. Scientific studies have shown that it is an effective treatment. Moxa can also be used for transverse presentation, where the baby’s shoulder or back is pointing down, or s/he is lying sideways across the abdomen.

During your treatment session, your practitioner will warm an acupuncture point on your little toe. They may also use 'normal' acupuncture if appropriate in your case. You will be given instructions on how to continue the moxa treatment as home using moxa sticks, which your practitioner will prescribe for you.

Using moxa at home

When to use moxa

Moxa should only ever be used according to the instructions given to you by your Chinese medicine practitioner.

How to use moxa

Light the end of the moxa stick in a candle flame. The moxa will take some time to fully light. Rotate the moxa stick slowly in the flame to light the whole end of it. Blow on the end of the stick to encourage it to light and aim to get an even glow across the head of the stick.

Tap the moxa stick several times on the rim of a heatproof dish so that any loose ash is knocked off. You should be left with a nice clean glowing end to the stick. It is important to repeat de-ashing several times during the moxa session whenever it appears that ash is building up, otherwise hot ash could drop off onto the skin.

Holding the stick like a pen, move it over the acupuncture point or area suggested by your practitioner. Allow the stick to come within 2cm of the skin surface. After a few seconds, the moxa stick will need to be moved regularly or you will eventually burn the skin surface. The best way to move the stick is either in small circles or with a pecking motion up and down every couple of seconds. If the skin starts to get too hot, move the moxa stick further from the skin or stop for a few seconds before continuing.

Extinguish the moxa stick by covering the burning end entirely in sand, or placing it very briefly in water. Moxa sticks cannot be safely stubbed out.


If you start feeling generally too hot, sweat excessively or at night, or become more thirsty than usual, discontinue use and consult a Chinese medicine practitioner.