Jiufa (jiǔ fǎ, 灸法) started to be used approximately 1.7 million years ago when the people started to be able to control fire. People used fire to warm themselves, to cook food, to keep dangerous animals away, to treat the cold induced diseases and pain. The Chinese character Jiu (jiǔ, 灸) was first seen in a book written by philosopher Zhuangzi (zhuāng zi, 庄子) approximately between 369-286 BC. If we analyze this character we find that it is made of two other characters. The first one is the character of fire (huǒ, 火) and the second one is the character jiu (jiǔ, 久) that can be find in many classical text such as “Formulas for Fifty-two Diseases” (Wŭ Shí Èr Bìng Fāng, 五十二病方) and has actually the same meaning as Jiu (jiǔ, 灸) which is heat application treatment. This character was used earlier than Jiu (jiǔ, 灸) and they had the same meaning.
In ancient time jiufa was performed with different kind of materials such as pine wood, cedar wood, elm wood, mulberry wood, jujube wood and others. Even though some types of jiufa material had special therapeutic effect such as cassia treating the bed sores, the most commonly used material was moxa (ài, 艾) since it has the most profound therapeutic effect, was easy to use and had a steady burning rhythm.
Cauterization and warming therapy methods or heat application treatment methods in Chinese Medicine are called jiufa (jiǔ fǎ, 灸法). Jiu literally means thermal therapy and fa (fǎ, 法) is translated as method. The aim of these methods is the treatment through the application of heat. This is also their common aspect; the application of thermal energy to promote healing. Jiufa in China originates in the Stone Age, after the Chinese people mastered the use of fire. In English the term jiufa is translated as “moxibustion”. But unfortunately this translation is wrong since in this way jiufa is limited in moxibustion, when actually is much more than that.
Jiufa was discovered in China before the Western Zhou Dynasty and was already well known in the Warring States period. It is correctly corresponded to the Chinese medicine term aijiu (ài jiǔ, 艾灸). Aijiu or moxibustion is the therapy that moxa is used for cauterization and warming of the tissues for treating and maintaining the health. So jiufa-heat application treatment method has a much broader meaning than aijiu-moxibustion. Thermal therapies or jiufa can be performed by the use of any heat producing material. For example direct application of fire on the body for heating the body tissues is a special way of treatment that is called huojiu (huǒ jiǔ, 火灸) which literally means fire thermal therapy. It is a common mistake to translate jiu-thermal therapy, as moxibustion because moxibustion is the most commonly used thermal therapy. Acupuncture, which is the treatment by use of needles, in Chinese is called zhenfa (zhēn fǎ, 针法). It has been noticed that moxibustion and acupuncture complement each other and both are used by the same practitioners. That is why these methods have united into acupuncture and moxibustion which in Chinese are called in one word zhenjiu (zhēn jiǔ, 针灸). But that does not mean that these methods are the same.
Filiform fire needle is part of this term zhenjiu but it is mainly considered to be in the group of jiu-thermal therapy and not in the group of acupuncture. The reason why filiform fire needling is in the group of jiufa-thermal therapy and not in acupuncture group is because the treatment effect of filiform fire needle depends on the heat transmitted to the body and much less to the puncture of the point. If a needle was inserted in the same way a hot filiform fire needle s inserted but without the thermal load, then the therapeutic result would be very poor or ascent. Therefore filiform fire needle should be considered more as heat application therapy and less as acupuncture. If we would divide the heat application treatments to internal and external, moxibustion would be external heat application treatment and filiform fire needle internal heat application treatment. Warm needle from the other hand, that will be described later, is a combination of internal and external heat application treatment.
Jiu was initially recommended for the treatment of cold induced diseases. For example Wang Bing (Wáng Bīng, 王冰) in his “Annotations on The Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic (Zhù Shì Huáng Dì Nèi Jīng Sù Wèn, 注释黄帝内经素问) mentions that jiu in Yellow Emperor’s Inner Classic mentions that it is effective for the treatment of cold induced diseases and this method in the future will be used for different kind of pathologies.
Modern research describes that when the body is under the influence of external heat application methods, the temperature of the skin and the tissues beneath the skin is increased. Thus the capillaries of that area are dilating and the mobility of the water molecules is increasing inside the vessels. This brings positive changes to blood viscosity, blood lipids and local microcirculation. The effect of moxibustion is very significant. The range of use of moxibustion is quite wide. In ancient China it was one of the most common ways of treatment. Today there are 3 ways in which the jiufa is used in treatment.