I’ve recently had a string of patients seeking acupuncture for plantar fasciitis, a debilitating foot pain that is usually at its worst upon waking in the morning. At its root is inflammation of the fascia—a sheath that surrounds muscles on the bottom of the feet—usually caused by recent trauma to the feet. Even something as commonplace as switching to a new pair of shoes or orthotics can initiate the condition.
Conventional Western medicine doesn’t have much to offer this condition. Anti-inflammatory drugs can provide temporary relief, but they do not address the underlying issue. The same goes for the next level of intervention, steroid shots. While I don’t have a problem with the occasional anti-inflammatory for treating acute pain, these drugs have their drawbacks when taken long term. Steroids can weaken the body’s immune system and ability to heal. With plantar fasciitis, risks of corticosteroid injections include ruptured plantar fascia, skin infections, nerve or muscle injury, and atrophy of the plantar fat pad.
Aspirin can damage the stomach lining and lead to internal bleeding and other complications if taken over a long period of time. At higher doses, Tylenol becomes a liver toxin and is the leading cause of liver failure in the Western world. While recent studies show that sustained use of ibuprofen can lead to higher rates of kidney cancer, the larger risk with ibuprofen is stomach and intestinal bleeding and perforation.
Acupuncture & East Asian Medicine, however, provides a unique lens for diagnosing plantar fasciitis and choosing the treatment that will reduce inflammation and support the healthy repair of the plantar fascia.
In addition to reducing inflammation, increasing circulation of qi (roughly translated as energy) and blood, and promoting the repair and growth of healthy fascia, acupuncture for plantar fasciitis also treats the underlying imbalance that invited the condition. These systemic/holistic benefits are effective preventative medicine that promotes health and well being.
For example, one of my patients, George, had an underlying condition of Dampness that blocked his body’s ability to heal his plantar fasciitis. While Dampness usually takes some time to treat with AOM, his condition improved dramatically after just three acupuncture for plantar fasciitis treatments.
Another patient, David, had an underlying Liver & Kidney Yin Deficiency that affected his body’s ability to provide cooling anti-inflammatory support to his plantar fascia. It took six weeks of treatment with acupuncture for plantar fasciitis and Chinese herbs for his condition to improve.
Another interesting treatment for plantar fasciitis that has worked for my patients and myself is to make a ‘sock’ out of aluminum foil, wrap it around the foot with a seam down the middle so that it can be taken on and off easily, and sleep with it on for 3-7 nights. It also helps to have a light sock under the foil and sleep with the foot outside of the covers. The aluminum foil helps to reduce the inflammation in the foot.
If you know someone with a case of plantar fasciitis that isn’t getting better on its own or with conventional medical treatment, please refer them to a licensed acupuncturist who can assess and treat them effectively.