Plantar fasciitis refers to the painful inflammation of a dense band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your feet, called the plantar fascia. This tissue connects your heel to your toes, and when inflamed, can cause extreme pain in either the arches or the heel. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain.
Plantar fasciitis is a common injury in runners, and also commonly occurs in pregnant women, men and women who are overweight, women approaching menopause, or adults who are on their feet for long periods of time each day. The pain is usually most intense first thing in the morning, and lessens once the tissues have a chance to move and loosen a bit. Patients report a stabbing or knife-like pain in the heels and arches first thing in the morning, or after being on their feet for a long period of time.
Plantar fasciitis is frequently treated with oral anti-inflammatory medications, arch supports, and a prescription for rest, in the case of athletes and runners. Physical therapy is also often prescribed, and additional calf stretches can be helpful. There are numerous braces that one can sleep with at night to try to stretch the fascia and relieve that initial morning pain and stiffness. Many times, unfortunately, the feet are treated with cortisone shots. Curing plantar fasciitis is often a long and slow healing process, as there is not as much blood flow to the plantar fascia as to many other musculoskeletal tissues.
The good news is, acupuncture can be a very useful therapy for plantar fasciitis! It is not a magic pill, but has been shown again and again in clinical practice to alleviate the pain and stiffness of plantar fasciitis and improve healing time. A systematic review of published clinical trials in 2012 concluded: “There is evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for PHP. This is comparable to the evidence available for conventionally used interventions, such as stretching, night splints or dexamethasone. Therefore acupuncture should be considered in recommendations for the management of patients with PHP.” (If you are familiar with systematic reviews of acupuncture, and the many challenges of good acupuncture research, you will know that an outright positive conclusion is a very good recommendation for acupuncture. Most conditions – even those for which acupuncture is frequently recommended in the dominant medical system – are concluded to “need further research” because acupuncture research, medically speaking, is quite a young field.)
Acupuncture treatment of plantar fasciitis focuses on increasing bloodflow and energy to the feet, opening up the channels, relaxing the calf muscle (which can often lead to the connective tissue tension), and nourishing the energy systems that control the heels and arches. Treatment itself will likely involve the insertion of acupuncture needles into the hands, feet, and legs. Additional modalities, such as auricular acupuncture and moxabustion (an herbal heat therapy), can also speed the healing process along.
Got heel pain? Try acupuncture!