Imagine parts of your body being set on fire to cure an ailment — that is what a certain Chinese treatment entails, known as fire therapy. As the name suggests, the method involves the use of fire and has been used in traditional methods such as moxibustion or burning dried aromatic flowering plants called mugwort on particular points on the body; fire needle or inserting hot needles into acupuncture points on the body; and vacuum cupping or suction created on skin by applying heated cups.
The traditional practice is based on the Chinese belief that our wellness depends on maintaining a balance of “hot” and “cold” elements in the body, according to Medical Daily, to achieve harmony between the body, mind and “qi” or “chi” or what they consider to be the driving life force.
How is fire therapy performed?
While fire therapy has been part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), it is now a patented project of Quan Jian, a Chinese herbal medicine company. A 2019 study published in Traditional Medicine Research explains that in this particular therapy by Quan Jian, some alcohol is poured on a wet towel and applied directly on to the skin, the theory being that it releases pathogenic heat by burning.
The therapy involves putting herbal paste on the body, followed by incorporating the physical principles of alcohol burning producing heat to stimulate acupuncture points. The blood is nourished and its circulation improved, as it dispels “pathogenic body wind, dampness, cold and poison and adjusts the body’s Yin and Yang Qi”, according to medchine.eu.
What does fire therapy treat?
Fire therapy is known to be used to treat various kinds of ailments like heumatism, rheumatoid arthritis, cervical spondylosis, frozen shoulder, lumbar disc hernia, joint sprains, tumours, digestive problems, gynaecology, and andrology, as per the website.
Besides China, fire therapy is being used in other countries as well. A clinic in Auckland is known to use the therapy to treat patients with chronic pain conditions. Recently, a soccer player in Egypt was reported to have undergone fire therapy to strengthen immunity for post-coronavirus pandemic football games.
This is supposedly “fire therapy” in China. What could go wrong? Open flame near my junk (pardon the pun.) pic.twitter.com/YZK3ca09mb
— ♱ Mr. Will ♱ (@Dudeteronomy) August 3, 2014
Fire therapy caught people’s attention after photos of a man having applied it on his crotch resurfaced on China’s microblogging website Sina Weibo. In 2018, beauty enthusiasts in Vietnam also picked up the trend of using fire therapy on their faces to “preserve their youth”. The process reportedly involved setting alcohol-soaked towels on fire and placing it on the face for 30 seconds to a minute. The beauty treatment reportedly costed about Rs 650-700.
Is fire therapy safe?
While practitioners of fire therapy claim its effectiveness as an alternate treatment, setting fire on one’s body is of course a risky endeavour, which obviously raises questions about its safety. There is not much medical evidence to prove that it works and no authorised certification either. Therapists have acknowledged occurrence of accidents in the past as well. That said, fire therapists do need to follow certain safety protocols: the fire should occur at the right acupuncture point, there must be a wet towel held by the attendant right next to the open fire, and the fire must be extinguished immediately if the patient feels too hot, Medical Daily mentions in its article.