Woman gets third-degree burns from TCM therapy: What is moxibustion?

Woman gets third-degree burns from TCM therapy: What is moxibustion?
PHOTO: EyeB

You may have heard of acupuncture or cupping therapy, but another Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) treatment, moxibustion, has recently come under the spotlight after a woman suffered third-degree burns from a session gone wrong at a Raffles Chinese Medicine clinic.

A third-degree burn is the most severe burn injury where all layers of the skin are destroyed.

What is moxibustion?

Moxibustion is a TCM therapy that involves the burning of mugwort, a small and spongy herb, on particular points on a patient's body to facilitate healing.

The heat allows the herb's medicinal properties to penetrate the body through the meridians, Kin Teck Tong explains.

A patient undergoing indirect moxibustionPhoto: EyeB

There are two types of moxibustion.

In direct moxibustion, mugwort cones are ignited after they are placed on the skin. They are removed before they burn down to the skin.

Whereas in indirect moxibustion, the herb cone or stick is kept about three to four centimetres away from the skin. Mugwort can also be wrapped around the top of acupuncture needles or placed inside a ceramic crucible before it is lit.

TCM literature says that by stimulating the flow of 'qi' in the body, the therapy can help to improve blood circulation, dispel cold and dampness, and strengthen the immune system.

Moxibustion is generally used to treat gastrointestinal disorders, joint pain, fatigue, as well as women's health and fertility issues.

Moxibustion gone wrong

Photos: Ms Tan

Last April, a 54-year-old woman was badly burnt and developed painful blisters on her arm after a moxibustion session.

Ms Tan had visited TCM clinic Raffles Chinese Medicine to relieve the pain in her left shoulder.

There, a TCM physician strapped a heated container to her arm and left her unattended for 15 minutes.

When the physician returned, she burst the blisters that had formed on Ms Tan's arm with an acupuncture needle and bandaged her wounds.

However, the blisters grew over the next few days. She was later diagnosed with third-degree burns after consulting several specialists.

Photo: The Straits Times

In Sept 2014, another woman suffered third-degree burns and blisters on both of her legs after undergoing the same treatment at Annie Tiang TCM Clinic.

Madam Chow See Mui, now 71, was told by a TCM physician to endure the extreme pain she felt during a moxibustion session.

However, the pain persisted for over a week and she had to be hospitalised for a month because of her injuries.

minlee@sph.com.sg

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