Sunday, February 9, 2014

The many uses of the moxa stick

I have been asked to describe how the moxa stick (a cigar-shaped roll of the herb mugwort, encased in paper) can be used to help bedsores (see my last blog).  In order not to reinvent the wheel, I am attaching below a handout I gave my students at SOFEA some years ago which covers all the points I would like to make now.  It’s rather a long handout, because there are so many uses to which we can put the moxa stick!
"Mugwort appears to help cell regeneration and heals at a very deep level.  Its heat, if applied for a sufficiently long time over traumatized tissue, will eventually draw blood to the surface, and the action of blood helps in numerous ways to restore the body to health.  Everybody should be encouraged to have a moxa stick at home because it is one of the most effective ways of dispelling pain, getting rid of infection and general healing that I know of.  For non-acupuncturists reading this, you can buy moxa sticks from any acupuncture supplier.  It’s also sensible to buy a moxa stick holder at the same time to help extinguish the stick at the end of use, though a suitable sized candlestick holder is just as good.

I give below some of the many successful uses of moxa from my own practice.  In many cases the moxa stick was used as a support to acupuncture treatment, but it is very effective on its own.

How to use it:  You don’t need to remove the paper covering, a common failing with those using it for the first time.  This holds the moxa in place.  The stick can be lit through the paper.  It takes some time to light the stick properly, so be patient.  A great deal of smoke must come from it and you must feel great heat from the tip before you start applying it.  It often goes out, and has to be re-lit.  To do this, cut off the few centimetres of ash before starting to re-light it.  You need a lot of patience using the stick, so you must prepare your patients for this.  There is no point whatsoever applying lukewarm heat.  The stick must be so hot that it becomes painful after a little time, at which point you draw the stick slightly further away.

Action:  Move the stick slowly over the area to be healed, keeping it as close to the skin as possible so that it receives maximum heat.  Tell the patient to tell you when it gets too hot so that you can draw it away a little.  It is important that maximum heat is applied, and that you warn the patient that it will get very hot, and that that is essential.  Obviously be careful not to blister the skin.  Don’t move the stick over too wide an area (an area of a few centimetres at a time is better), because the skin will cool down too quickly between applications.  You need concentrated heat for the stick to work.

Obviously it is easier if the patient applies the stick him/herself, as they are better able to control the heat, but this is only possible on areas of the skin which can be reached by them.

For any very localized problem, such as a small cut, do not move the stick at all, but hold it in one position as close to the skin as possible, withdrawing it only when it becomes too hot for the patient to tolerate.  This draws the infection out of the area, and is particularly successful with things like boils or whiteheads.  In these cases, you go as close to the skin as possible, wait until the patient tells you it is very hot and draw the stick away completely for a few second to allow the area to cool down a little, before re-applying

How often do you use the stick: There have to be frequent applications for any stubborn infection or skin condition to be relieved.  These must be at least once a day, for a period of at least 10 minutes and longer if the patient has the patience.  The longer and the more frequent the better.  One of my patients with very severe psoriasis over large areas of the body applied the stick for at least half an hour twice a day very successfully.  It took about two weeks for the very bad patches to disappear.  There is no contra-indication to the frequency of use. 

What it can be used for
Any infected area at all:  This means things like ulcers, such as those caused by bedsores, infected fingers, infected scar tissue or tooth-ache caused by an infected tooth.
Any skin complaints whatsoever, particularly stubborn ones like psoriasis. Psoriasis leaves a layer of dead skin on the surface, which eventually cracks and leads to bleeding below it. A patient should be given a supply of moxa sticks and told to use it over the most affected area of traumatized skin.  Because the heat has to penetrate the dead skin, it will take some time for the patient to feel any warmth, and the application of the moxa stick must continue until the area to which it is being applied becomes really warm to the touch and remains warm once the stick is removed.  Often the psoriasis is over a very wide area of the body, and it would take too long to moxa every patch of psoriasis.  I have found, though, that really concentrating on one small patch has an effect throughout the body, as if the healing in one area leads to healing in another.  So try one patch at a time.  Since the patient will do most of the work (although you can help at little each time he/she comes for treatment), it is important that you don’t give them too great a task to do, otherwise they won’t do it. 
    Time taken:  Probably at least 10 minutes on each badly infected patch until it glows with warmth. You know things are moving if the dry skin starts to drop off, the bleeding stops and a layer of fresh new, pink skin appears round the edges of the psoriasis patches.  This is the new skin forming below the surface which eventually pushes off the dead skin.  Carry on moxaing over the new skin, but more gently and from further away, as it is very delicate and you obviously don’t want to blister it.
    If the skin complaint is on the face such as pimples, where the moxa could burn the skin, place a layer of paper between the skin and the stick as protection, placing your hands carefully over the paper so that is does not get so hot as to burn.  The skin should be red and glowing when you finish, so suggest the patient does the moxaing in the evening, not just before they go out to work.
Boils:  For very localized skin complaints, like boils, do not move the stick, but hold it right above the boil.  You will find that the infected material will gradually be drawn out to the surface through the heat.
Whiteheads:  These can cause quite unsightly lumps on the skin, and are usually removed surgically.  The method for removing them is to hold the stick closely above them.  Again, the impacted sebaceous gland will heal itself, releasing the sebum.  If it is a large whitehead it may leave a little crater, possibly with some residual infection.  If this is so,carry on moxaing until the area looks really healed.
Cuts and blisters:  If there is bleeding, you can see a layer of healed tissue forming very soon after you moxa.  Large and weeping blisters will develop a healing skin overnight if moxa is applied.  Cuts also heal very much more quickly.
Surgical adhesions:  If there is scarring either on or below the surface after surgery which is causing adhesions, applying the moxa stick over the area will help the distressed scar tissue reintegrate better.  A patient of mine had had a hysterectomy two years before, and the scar still tugged painfully deep inside.  She used the stick successfully to get rid of the pain.  She said she could feel the tightness loosening as she applied the moxa stick.  It is very important to give a patient recovering from any form of surgery a stick to speed the healing, and it is excellent to get rid of infections over the surgical area, for example in the case of a Caesarian.
Viral complaints such as herpes and shingles:  I suggested that one of my patients should use the stick on a painful herpes patch of skin on her buttock which appeared at the time of each period.  To my surprise it disappeared after one application, never to re-occur.  I have also given it to a patient with shingles, and this alleviated the pain enormously. I imagine it would also help chicken pox sufferers but I have not yet had an opportunity to try this out.
Pain of any kind:  Wherever there is pain, such as aching joints, twisted ankle, soreness.  The stick will help the area feel warm and loved, and the pain often goes or at least lessens.
Drawing a splinter out:  If you can’t get the splinter out (i.e., if it is deeply below a nail), moxa over the nail.  This will get rid of any infection that might build up under the nail, and I have found that the splinter is gradually pushed out as the nail grows.

Finally, the secret is always to think of the moxa stick if there is any problem on the surface of the skin.  If the patient feels better from doing it, then tell him/her to carry on, if worse (which I have actually never found), then to stop. If nothing happens after 4-5 days of application, then there is no point continuing because it is ineffective.

Three warnings:  1. Patients (and practitioners) often don’t apply the heat for long enough or close enough to the skin.  You have to get the technique right and have the patience and time to carry on applying the stick over some days for it to work.
                             2. Make sure you have extinguished the heated stick properly, otherwise it will continue to smoulder for a long time.
                            3.  Because it creates quite a lot of smoke, it's best to use it in a well-ventilated room, or ideally outside in the open, such as in the garden.  Some people find the smell it leaves behind quite strong, but don't allow that to stop you from using it!

Copyright: Nora Franglen 2014"

I hope those reading this will start using the moxa stick more.



  1. Could not find the SOFEA handout on Moxa uses

  2. This long blog is a reprint of the SOFEA handout!

    1. Can moxa sticks be used foe ear aches? Will it help stop ear infections?

    2. Yes, they certainly can. Just pass the heated stick gently over the acupuncture point II (SI) 19. This is excellent to help treat children's earaches. It is a simple way of clearing ear infections, and reduces the pain.

    3. Thank you for your quick resonse.

  3. Very interesting! I had never thought to use the moxa stick for other uses such as this. I recently had a good outcome with a patient who suffers severe boils. One had just started up on her shoulder near the acupuncture point VII 21 of which I needled and then we put a moxa patch/plaster on it which gently heats the area for 16 hours and it just quietly went away without developing further.

  4. Thank you for the informative and useful blog of Moxa sticks. You helped me to know about the process of uses the Moxa Sticks