Warm Needle Acupuncture

Written by Ariel Stimson

            Warm needle acupuncture is a modality that combines acupuncture and moxibustion, penetrating heat deeply into the body to expel cold, warm channels, stop pain and more. For more information about moxabustion, click here! In a place like the Pacific Northwest, where we live in cold, damp weather for most of the year, this modality is very very useful. Some of my favorite uses for warm needle acupuncture are for cold-type arthritis that is worse with cold, damp weather, menstrual cramps and urinary retention from prostatic hyperplasia.

Warm needle acupuncture is performed by first needling the area you are trying to warm. It is important to obtain feelings of “De Qi”- this can come as feelings of pressure, spreading warmth or coolness, tingling, or a sense of energy or awareness at the site of insertion. The needle should stand mostly upright, away from the skin. Once the needle is placed, a ball of moxa is attached to the top of the needle, as far away from skin as possible. There are many opinions about the best way to do this, but I personally like using a higher quality moxa and sticking two pieces together around both sides of the needle until they form a sturdy ball. The moxa ball is then lit, often with an incense stick, at the bottom of the moxa ball. As the moxa burns it forms a resin and sticks to itself and the needle. The patient should feel a pleasant gentle warming sensation at the needle site. Each needle can take a few balls of moxa, or until there is a slight redness or pinkness on the skin at the base of the needle. It’s best to wait some time for the needle to cool down in between moxa balls so that the practitioner doesn’t burn their fingers on the hot needle. If the patient doesn’t feel warmth with the first ball of moxa, just keep adding balls of moxa until they do. By the end of the treatment, the area should feel softer, warmer and less painful if there was pain to begin with.

As someone who has suffered chronic knee pain from an ACL and meniscus injury over a decade ago, warming needle is my favorite way to ease my knee pain. There are two main points I like to use, called the “eyes of the knee” or Xi Yan where it is possible to needle deep into the knee joint. With the knee bent at ninety degrees, these points are located below and to either side of the kneecap, aka the patella. The treating acupuncturist can sink two needles into Xi Yan acupuncture points, two to four inches into the center of the joint, often where cold and dampness gets stuck and causes pain. After two to three balls of moxa using warm needle acupuncture the cold and damp is dispersed and my pain is significantly reduced. The crunching or “crepitice” accompanied by cold-damp type arthritis is also reduced, and the joint is able move more smoothly. 

If you ever experience pain in a hard-to-reach area that is worse with cold, I highly recommend asking your acupuncturist to try warm needle acupuncture for you!

For more information about Ariel Stimson, or to schedule with her in the clinic, see her bio page.