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Studies Reveal Moxibustion-Acupuncture’s Effectiveness In Treating Cervical Spondylosis

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As an alternative therapy, acupuncture has long been quite a popular way to relieve neck pain; on the other hand, moxibustion acupuncture may be a new and a bit scary for even acupuncture enthusiasts. Some people may seem that the thought of setting fire to a substance (moxa) at the top end of an acupuncture needle may seem like a step too far, so why is this multi-millennia old technique still practiced? More importantly, can moxibustion acupuncture work in treating neck pain?

A component of an ancient Oriental medical system known as traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), moxibustion is a healing method that usually involves the use of an herb widely known for its healing qualities, mugwort. The truth is acupuncture’s Chinese character actually translates to acupuncture-moxibustion, as this therapy was designed to stimulate energy (qi), boost the blood, and support overall wellbeing and health.

A common practice to stimulate the uterus, moxibustion acupuncture is also used to rectify other issues associated with the female reproductive system such as menstrual cramping and breech births. In recent years, it has likewise been researched to ascertain the possible risks and benefits for neck pain and other physical conditions.

Direct and Indirect Moxibustion Acupuncture

In Western cultures, direct moxibustion is rarely practiced as there is a danger of scarring and blisters. Direct moxibustion entails the placing of a small amount of mugwort, that’s converted into moxa, on top of an acupuncture point, lit up, and allowed to burn out. Practitioners of this procedure can also take out the moxa before it completely burns out, thereby limiting any skin burning. If the moxa is removed at the right time scarring, blistering, and pain could be avoided. Instead, a pleasurable feeling of heat should penetrate the skin and help release tension and pain.

Indirect moxibustion is the more preferred moxibustion procedure used in Western acupuncture treatments. The procedure entails the application of moxa to the top end of an acupuncture needle that has been inserted into an acupoint. The moxa is then set on fire in order to warm the needle. After the completion of the treatment, the burning moxa is put out and the needle removed. One other type of indirect moxibustion involves the burning of a moxa stick that’s held for a few minutes very near the targeted acupoint until the skin turns red. This type of moxibustion and the indirect form are both deemed to pose a much lower risk of burning or pain compared to direct moxibustion.

When Should Be Moxibustion Used?

Based on TCM principles, moxibustion acupuncture should only be used for stagnant or cold conditions and not for issues where there is too much heat. In the treatment of neck pain, this therapy may be useful for people whose pain is considered to be the result of blocked qi (energy), tension, weak blood flow, and not for inflammatory conditions.

As usual, any person performing moxibustion acupuncture or any alternative treatment for neck pain should have undergone proper education. In moxibustion acupuncture, the practitioner should hold a traditional Chinese medicine degree or should be a qualified acupuncturist. In the US, you could only practice moxibustion if you have an acupuncture license. If your patient has a respiratory condition, the practitioner can use smokeless moxa sticks as the odor and smoke a burning moxa can be overwhelming.

Can Neck Pain Be Cured With Moxibustion Acupuncture?

A few years ago a study was published that specifically dealt with the use of moxibustion acupuncture in the treatment of neck pain due to arthritis in the neck (or cervical spondylosis). The 145 subjects who participated in the study were divided into three groups in this randomized clinical trial: 48 subjects in the moxibustion group, 48 subjects in the acupuncture group, and 49 subjects in the acupuncture-moxibustion group.

All subjects were treated using the TE 3 (Shongshu), Sl 15 (Chiangshongshu), GV 14 (Dashui), and Extra (Bailao) acupoints. For the moxibustion group, at each of these acupoints, three cones and seed-size moxa were applied. Twenty minute needling session in all of these acupoints was administered in the acupuncture group. Both protocols were utilized for the combination group.

All subjects were treated in the prescribed manner once every three days and within four weeks, they should have undergone 10 treatments. Three months later, they were required to undergo a follow-up period. Evaluations were done using the MPQ (McGill Pain Questionnaire) and NPQ (Northwick Park Pain Questionnaire).

Compared to baseline, outcomes revealed that after three months, all three groups had lower MPQ and NPQ scores; however the group that was treated with acupuncture-moxibustion had lower scores compared to the groups treated with either moxibustion or acupuncture alone. There was a significant difference in the efficacy of the treatment in all three groups, although it was seen that all of them experienced substantial alleviation of pain caused by cervical spondylosis.

Neck Pain Treatment Using Direct Moxibustion

In another published study in recent years, the efficacy of moxibustion on treatment of cervical spondylosis of the vertebral artery was tested and observed. The study involved the participation of 60 patients who were assigned randomly to a group. One group was treated with a regular dosage of moxa and the other group received a saturated dosage of moxa. Two acupoints wherein heat sensitivity (thermo-sensitization) was considered to be strongest were selected for moxibustion treatment. In the saturated treatment group, moxibustion time was gauged by the loss of heat sensitivity, while in the regular dose group a 15 minute standard therapy was administered on each acupoint. Both groups during the first four days were given a couple of treatments each day, then for the next 10 days, treatments were given once a day.

The treatment’s clinical efficacy, and the patients’ function and symptoms were documented prior to and post treatments as well on the follow-up treatment six months later. The group that received regular moxa dosage experienced symptomatic relief in 26.7 percent and 30 percent of the patients after treatment and after six months, respectively while for the saturated moxa treatment group, the efficacy rate was shown to be 56.7 percent post treatment and 60 percent six months post treatment. When it came to function and clinical symptoms, both groups experienced improvements post treatment and at follow-up, although, much greater improvement was shown in the saturated moxa group.

Current Research Constraints

All the above-mentioned studies indicate the inherent benefits of moxibustion acupuncture for relief of neck pain due to arthritis, but forethought is in order as those researches are not placebo-controlled (that could be performed with moxibustion or needling of non-acupoints) and are isolated. Additional studies are required to ascertain if the moxibustion acupuncture benefits can be applied to other issues that can result in neck pain, and whether a placebo effect is arising there. Neck pain direct moxibustion acupuncture treatment can also result in complications and long term or even permanent skin damage and so should only be performed by an experienced and qualified practitioner.

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Written by Valerie

November 21st, 2017 at 6:04 am