TCM: Acupuncture and Moxibustion

We’ve finally arrived at acupuncture! Acupuncture is one of the first things Westerners think of when they think of Traditional Chinese Medicine, but I’ve left it for the end because the other branches of TCM lay the groundwork for effective acupuncture treatments.


Like the other treatments we've explored, acupuncture works to restore and maintain the balance of qi in your body. Qi flows through the body by a system of channels, or meridians. You can think of these as similar to the circulatory or nervous systems. Acupuncture points are areas on the meridians where needles are placed to influence the flow of qi. Acupuncture is used to treat a wide variety of conditions, from colds to chronic pain. Some of the most common ailments I treat include: back pain, sciatica, migraines, other types of pain, digestive issues, infertility, and cancer care support.

One of the biggest questions people often have about acupuncture is, “Does it hurt?” Since most of us have had experience with immunizations and blood work, this question is completely understandable! We're used to thinking that needles cause pain. Acupuncture needles are designed differently: they are much thinner, about the size of a human hair, and they are solid because they are not designed to insert or remove anything. Also, they do not go deeply into muscle tissue or blood vessels. Patients will sometimes feel a pricking or stinging sensation when the needles are placed, but this fades quickly.


Acupuncture and herbal medicine come together in a treatment called moxibustion. This treatment is almost always used with acupuncture in China; the literal translation of the character for “acupuncture” is actually “acupuncture-moxibustion”! Moxibustion is a technique that uses the herb mugwort, which is placed on acupuncture needles or directly on the skin and is burned, creating heat and warmth in those areas. Moxibustion is especially helpful for patients who have a deep weakness, which is termed qi and/or blood deficiency, in one or multiple systems. While I don't practice moxibustion in the clinic, there is a form that I can prescribe for self-treatment at home. This is called “pole moxibustion” and it uses a cigar-like stick of mugwort that is hovered over the area to be treated until it is pink and warm. A patient I saw had a hairline fracture in his radius (the bone in the forearm closest to the thumb). It was not severe enough to be casted, but was immobilized with a brace. At the time of the fracture, his arm was in too much pain to apply needles to it directly, so this was a perfect opportunity for pole moxibustion. The patient applied the pole moxibustion twice a day for one week and then once a day until the pain dissipated. Each time he did the treatment, the pain decreased and he could feel the whole arm get comfortably warm. This treatment was combined with acupuncture in other regions to help with the pain and inflammation from a systemic standpoint.

Receiving acupuncture or acupuncture-moxibustion is normally quite relaxing. Many patients experience a deep meditative state, a sense of euphoria, or even fall asleep! This means that on top of the health benefits, getting a treatment can be like a mini vacation! Ready to get away and try something new?