How Magic Needle Therapy Can Relieve Your Pain
Today, America is facing an opioid crisis. For every ache and ill feeling, there is a drug to turn the pain into numbness. At the same time, many people are seeking alternative healing remedies that are noninvasive and not addictive.
The Birth of a Natural Healing Remedy
Magic Needle Therapy Revealed 300 Years Ago: How It Can Help You Relieve Your Pain Today
Magic needle therapy was a completely new method of treating pain when it was revealed by a Confucian scholar in 1717 in a best-selling self-help book, Great Ultimate Magic Needle Heart Method.
One hundred years later the magic needle method was accepted into traditional Chinese medicine by a medical authority in China; interestingly; at this time it was also introduced into Western civilization as recorded in Western medical books. Despite the natural healing power one can experience from the “magic needle,” little is known about it in Western civilization today.
Moxibustion (AKA the Magic Needle)
Applying heat is one of the most powerful and soothing ways to relieve chronic pain. This is where a moxa stick (magic needle) comes in. Anyone can feel the healing effects of these inexpensive and therapeutic remedies by holding the hot end of the moxa stick over an inflamed area. With repeated application, the lasting benefits outweigh the short time it takes to learn this Asian therapy technique. This brilliant innovation, coined suspended moxibustion, stimulates acupuncture points, which in turn release muscles while reducing pain swiftly. Additional benefits of moxibustion include improved circulation, strengthened immunity, and restored flexibility.
When it comes to terminology, I prefer the term Asian medicine to describe theories and methods that originated in China. Since then, they have spread throughout Asia, with each country adopting the theories and adapting the techniques to its own culture. The words moxa, acumoxa, and moxibustion derive from the Japanese word mogusa (which means “burning of mugwort,” a plant of the daisy family). Since the Han dynasty (206 bc–220 ad), Chinese medicine boasts not only herbal remedies to ingest internally, but also an array of physical therapies that were first published 2,000 years ago and continuously refined.
Heat as a Natural Remedy
From the time of the Han dynasty (206 bce–220 ce), founding classics on Asian medicine described heating methods as placing a cone of moxa directly on the skin or on a button-sized spacer; when the patient said it was too hot, the therapist removed the burning cone. This method was not popular because of the high risk of blisters.
Safer methods were sought during the Song dynasty (960 ad–1279 ad); for example, new methods were sought to reduce the risk of blistering. A revised method leveraged moxa rolled into a stick—the hot end of the stick was pressed against a layer of cloth or paper covering the skin, thereby providing more heat and a decrease in blisters.
Then in 1717, during the early Qing dynasty (1644–1911), a Chinese Confucian scholar turned country doctor published a self-care book on the great ultimate magic needle, the first known book to describe burning moxa suspended over the skin providing radiant heat that stimulates the acupoint below and reduces pain. This innovative book on suspended moxibustion became a best seller in China for more than 100 years.
The Confucian scholar wrote that a mysterious Taoist recluse calling himself “Purple Aurora” passed down the secret of heating acupoints without touching the body. The moxa stick looks like a needle, which may be why he called the stick the “grand ultimate magic needle” or simply magic needle.
The Lasting Impact of Baron Larrey
At the turn of the 18th century in Western civilization, suspending heat over an acupoint was a novel idea. A French battlefield surgeon, Baron Larrey (1766-1842), studied the new therapy in the 19th century when he traveled with the army to “the Orient,” as it was known then. His fascination with the healing power prompted him to write a book describing how to effectively apply heat for pain relief. While Larrey used moxa sticks on soldiers with remarkable results, the original magic needle moxa book, first published in 1717, was still a medical self-help best seller in China for more than 100 years.
Larrey was Napoleon’s surgeon general, who after his military service (1797-1815) reported “happy and extraordinary results” on an assortment of disorders in his book, On the Use of the Moxa as a Therapeutic Agent (1822). While Larrey testified to remarkable results in morbid cases, he also reported on his failures; he surgically examined his patients after death. He reported moxa pressure softened the scar tissue and restored circulating blood for up to three to four inches even through the bones of the skull. As a result of these experiments and observations, he preferred using the moxa therapy on his patients, both soldiers and civilians.
Larrey asked his student, Robley Dunglison, who was studying with him as part of his education to become a surgeon, to translate his book into English. In his book, Dunglison praised the “moxa stick method” of relieving pain taught by his teacher, who had mastered the use of the burning stick suspended over the body.
Great Ultimate Magic Needle Methods
At the time the English colonists were rebelling and forming the United States, knowledge of how to use the magic moxa stick as a folk remedy spread throughout China. Then, in 1820, near the end of the Qing dynasty, a prestigious and prolific medical writer, Chen Xiuyuan, published a book, Great Ultimate Magic Needle Methods, on techniques developed after 100 years of experimentation and refinement. With the inclusion of the magic needle in his writings, this new, safe method gained popularity with acupuncturists and massage therapists. Xiuyuan’s writings have continued to influence the writing and experimentation of the moxa method.
Robley Dunglison (1798-1869), the first great American medical writer and the father of preventive medicine, wrote more than 30 medical books. Dunglison described moxibustion and acupuncture as counterirritants in General Therapeutics (1836). The entry under “Actual Cauterants” (p. 339) discussed moxa: “Accordingly, the use of the moxa has … nervous influence; and many deep-seated pains have yielded to it, which had resisted the action of the ordinary counterirritants, though repeatedly applied.”
While discussing revulsive medicine (p. 338), Dunglison described using strong counterirritation to drain toxins in extreme cases. Then, after discussing experimental and extreme measures to keep a sore issuing fluid for long periods, Dunglison wrote that he preferred blisters. He noted, however, that one of his teachers, Baron Larrey, preferred the gentle method of reddening the skin: “When they use the moxa, they endeavor to restrict its effects to the rubefaction it occasions.”
Thomas Jefferson employed Dunglison to found a medical school in Virginia. Dunglison designed the curriculum and wrote some of the course material. Since there was not a complete medical dictionary in English at the time, he wrote the largest English medical dictionary, and the book became a medical best seller for decades.
Professor Dunglison taught that compared to other counterirritants, moxibustion was the best at relieving nerve pain and deep-seated pain. In addition, moxibustion could relieve pain when other counterirritants failed. However, he did not think it would catch on with Americans.
Today in the United States, Japanese and Korean communities still use the moxa stick for pain relief, but it is not used much by Caucasian acupuncturists. The moxa stick is still a widely used remedy throughout Asia. Originally used by families and friends as a home remedy for pain, it has often been more popular in Asia than acupuncture alone. A few massage schools that teach Asian massage also teach the moxa stick as a way to naturally relieve pain.
My 49 Years of Moxibustion Practice
The American use of drugs to get quick relief has caused an epidemic of addiction and chronic pain. Moxibustion with a magic needle can relieve deep-seated pain when other methods fail. When the most sensitive patients arrive in
my office with horrible pain, I marvel at the simplicity of the idea: Stimulate an acupoint by suspending the glowing-hot tip of a moxa stick above the skin! Especially with nerve pain, the look on the patients’ faces and the relief heard in their voices when their pain melts away gratifies my heart.
Though the moxa sticks never press on or pierce the skin, the heat reaches the deep pain like a magic needle. I have treated thousands of patients with moxibustion in my career and can report a significant improvement in pain relief with moxa pressure treatments.
If you would like to learn more about how Michael and his apprentices can help you relieve pain without often-dangerous drugs, you can follow Michael Turk on Facebook.
If you would like to schedule an appointment to relieve your pain today, you can do so by calling the Asian Healthcare Association at 530-213-3332. To contact his apprentices:
Delina Fuchs at 530-514-7493
Justin Urrutia at 530-588-2028
You can also contact Michael with your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michael Turk has been teaching Asian medicine since 1969. Through his massage practice, he has combined acupressure and moxibustion to quickly and effectively relieve pain for more than 40 years. His East/West Health Center in Chico was the largest multidiscipline alternative health center in Northern California for more than a decade. Today Michael spends most of his time writing about Asian medicine and exploring new places with his wife, Charlotte.