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Open Access Research article

The effectiveness of moxibustion for the treatment of functional constipation: a randomized, sham-controlled, patient blinded, pilot clinical trial

Ji-Eun Park1, Jae-Uk Sul12, Kyungwon Kang1, Byung-Cheul Shin23, Kwon-Eui Hong4 and Sun-Mi Choi1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medical Research, Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine, Daejeon, South Korea

2 Korean Medicine Hospital, Pusan National University, Yangsan, South Korea

3 Division of Clinical Medicine, School of Korean Medicine, Pusan National University, Yangsan, South Korea

4 Department of Oriental Medicine, Daejeon University, Daejeon, South Korea

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2011, 11:124  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-11-124

Published: 2 December 2011



Moxibustion is an ancient traditional medicine using burning mugworts to stimulate acupuncture points. The aim of this study was to investigate the safety and efficacy of moxibustion for the treatment of constipation using a randomized, sham-controlled, participant-blinded, pilot trial.


Twenty-six participants (identified with either qi (vital energy) deficiency or qi excess syndrome) were randomly divided into either a moxibustion or sham group. Participants were treated with real or sham moxibustion at 4 acupuncture points, ST23 and ST27, bilaterally, 3 times per week for four weeks. The primary outcome was the frequency of defecations; secondary outcomes were the Bristol stool form scale (BSS) and the constipation assessment scale (CAS).


Of the 26 participants that were randomized, 24 completed the study. Defecation frequency, BSS, and CAS showed no difference between the moxibustion and sham groups. The differences were -0.25 (95% CI: -2.08, 1.58, p = 0.78), -1.22 (95% CI: -2.7, 0.26, p = 0.1), 0.91 (95% CI: -1.46, 3.28, p = 0.44) in defecation frequency, BSS, CAS, respectively. The defecation frequency increased from an average of 3.3 to 4.6 times per week in the moxibustion group (1.5[-0.5, 2], p = 0.06) and from 2.7 to 3.7 stools per week in the sham group (1[-1, 2], p = 0.15) after four weeks of treatment. The difference between participants with a deficiency or an excess syndrome, determined based on assessment of sweat, facial features, pain, body energy, and pulse type, was significant in only defecation frequency. The difference was 3.3 (95% CI: 0.41, 6.19, p = 0.03).


Moxibustion treatment appears safe, but showed no positive effect on constipation. The effectiveness of moxibustion treatment may depend on the syndrome pattern, and further long-term studies with a larger number of subjects are warranted.

Trial registration

Clinical Research Information Service, KCT0000168