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Before you reach for that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug or analgesic, why not reach for a Moxa Roll instead? With the arrival of cold and damp winter weather, chronic joint aches and pains begin to flare up in humans and elder horses. One of the most effective therapies for cold and damp conditions of the body is a natural oriental herbal heat therapy called moxibustion.
In a moxibustion treatment, specific dried herbs are burned and used to warm regions of the body and acupuncture points. The intention of the treatment is to increase circulation, which promotes healing and provides pain relief, and to induce a smoother flow of blood and “Prana” or “Qi” (energy). The smoke produced from the burning herbs has a pleasant, distinct odor of strong incense and is believed to also contribute to the healing effects of the treatment.
The primary herb used in moxibustion therapy is artisma vulgaris , better known as mugwort and often called moxa. Moxa is processed and made available for use in different forms such as Moxa Rolls (or Sticks), Moxa Cones or Loose Moxa. The Moxa Roll, which looks and burns slowly like a long cigar, is used for Indirect Moxibustion Therapy, which is the most prevalent treatment style in use today for humans and horses.
HISTORY OF MOXIBUSTION
The use of therapeutic moxibustion predates the use of acupuncture. Moxibustion’s history starts in 3500 BCE with the people who lived in the bitter cold plains of Mongolia. Following the interlinking trade routes of Ancient, China, India and Tibet, the practice of moxibustion was introduced to, and adopted and adapted by the practitioners of Traditional Tibetan Medicine (TTM), Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine.
Today each Asian medical system practices its own unique version of moxibustion. The TCM method of moxibustion is probably the most commonly known and used. Use of moxibustion was promoted by Bian Que, a legendary doctor of Chinese Medicine in the year 500 BCE. Bian Que found that in addition to helping with joint problems, moxibustion was also beneficial for chronic muscular problems and any deficient condition of the body. Some of the earliest Chinese writings on the use of moxibustion with horses date to 475 BCE.
While equine acupuncture is more widely known and used than equine moxibustion, in some conditions, such as chronic arthritis, equine moxibustion provides the most effective remedy. Equine moxibustion is a good choice of treatment for arthritis, joint pain, stiff neck, shoulder pain, back pain, tension and stress. Specific equine moxibustion techniques are also used for keeping fit, stimulating the immune system, and avoiding disease.
Success of any moxibustion treatment relies on four key factors:
- Knowledge of contraindications and safety considerations
- Correct problem identification
- Selecting the correct acupoints/regions for treatment
- Properly stimulating the acupoints/regions
Do not perform moxibustion if any of these circumstances are present:
- Open wounds
- Sensitive body areas: head, face, eyes, mouth, groin, sheath and/or testicles, teats, anus, vulva
- Excessively hot climate
- Pregnant mares (refer to your veterinary practitioner)
Due to the fact that you are dealing with fire, safety in the barn should always be a prime concern. Moxibustion should never be done with the horse in a bedded stall or near flammable materials. A safe area such as a bare stall, aisle, or wash stall should be designated for the session. Because of the smoke produced, moxibustion should always be done in a well ventilated area. Never leave a lit Moxa Roll unattended. Moxa Rolls should always be properly extinguished at the end of a session.
OVERVIEW OF AN EQUINE MOXIBUSTION SESSION
A quiet environment is essential. The horse needs to be relaxed and responsive. The horse needs to stand quietly for the treatment, so he/she will need to be tied or held by an assistant.
Specific acupoints and areas are selected for the prevailing condition and will be gently stimulated for 5-10 minutes. In addition to assisting with the problem, the warming moxa usually has a calming effect upon the horse, practitioner and any onlookers.
To begin, the end of the Moxa Roll is lit. Once the end is glowing red, the ember is held 1-2 inches away from selected treatment location. The ember should never touch, or come too close to cause discomfort to the skin or hair coat. Stimulation is achieved through indirect warming of the acupoint and area with the Moxa Roll. The goal here is to provide gentle, not intense, heat to the desired area. In fact, the gentler the session, the longer the effects last.
The practitioner can hold the Moxa Roll to provide different types of stimulation. Circling the area, or point, is referred to as circling moxibustion. Circling is used to cover larger areas of the body. Mild moxibustion is where the Moxa Roll is held stationary and a little further away from the point to stimulate with gentle heat. Moving the Moxa Roll in an in-and-out motion at the points or area is referred to as pecking moxibustion. Pecking is utilized to provide more intense heat that is still within the individual’s comfort range.
The practitioner always monitors the heat level by continually checking the coat/skin and works with the horse to provide a therapeutic level of heat while maintaining comfort and safety. The objective is to gently warm the area with moxa and maintain at all times a comfort level. Always remove the moxa immediately if the heat becomes uncomfortable for the horse.
For chronic conditions, such as arthritis, moxibustion sessions may be repeated daily for 3-5 days, then once a week for 3-4 weeks, then once a month for support. This protocol has worked well with our equine clients and is a standard we employ with our own horses and horses rehabilitating at our farm. It is a good protocol to start at the beginning of the colder weather, but is effective when started anytime in the season.
Moxibustion therapy is safe, relatively easy to learn, and inexpensive. It produces remarkable results. It is a skill that you can master and use on a regular basis for yourself, and your horses benefit for years to come. When you see the positive effects it has on your horse (or you!) you will always have a Moxa Roll on hand. Your horse will always be thankful you do!
For more information on equine moxibustion email Don@animaldynamics.com or visit him on the web at www.animaldynamics.com and www.equine-electro-acupressure.com
Rosie’s Case Study
It was early January in North Central Florida and the weather was cold and damp. We received a call for help from John, one of our clients, who regularly competes in 50-mile Endurance rides. “Rosie is acting like she has some neck pain and she feels off behind. Can you come out and take a look at her?”
We headed out to the barn and evaluated Rosie. She did indeed have a great deal of neck pain and she really did not want to be touched. She also presented with some muscle tension in her lumbar-sacral back, gluteals and hip joints.
Rosie looked on doubtfully as we discussed our treatment plan and prepared our equine moxibustion materials. For Rosie’s neck pain, we selected a combination of Transpositional and Classical Equine Acupoints. We would use GB20 at the poll and all nine of the Jiu Wei points at the base of the cervical rhomboids. We would treat those points with the Moxa Roll. For Rosie’s hindquarter pain, we would use the Moxa Roll on the Transpositional Acupoints of GB27, GB29, GB30 and BL54. Additionally, we chose to use Loose Moxa in the Moxa Burner on the Classical Equine Acupoints: Bai Hui, Shen-Shu, Shen-Peng and Shen-Jiao.
Cooperative, but still unconvinced, Rosie stood like a statue with a stiff neck as we began her equine moxibustion treatment. She had no idea of the wonderful experience that was just moments away.
Shortly into the treatment, in response to the gentle warming heat of the moxa, Rosie dropped her head and neck. Her eyes softened. Her lips began to droop in a sign of total relaxation and her breathing slowed as she started a soft lick chew. Rosie gently rotated her neck as if to show a stubborn chronic neck issue had melted away.
John was delighted his hardworking, tough little mare had achieved total relaxation and muscular pain relief. As we left the barn, we were all certain we saw a smile on Rosie’s face.
The next day we received a call from John to say that Rosie felt great on their morning ride... Mission Accomplished!