For individuals dealing with plantar fasciitis, every step can be painful. Can taking an integrative approach and utilizing acupuncture help treat this condition and accelerate symptom relief?
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Acupuncture Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is when the supportive tissue running under the foot, from the heel to the base of the toes, becomes irritated and painful. The disorder can be difficult to manage, but there are alternative treatment options. Acupuncture plantar fasciitis therapy is one potential method of relief, alleviating pain, and returning the individual to regular activities. Acupuncture involves inserting extremely thin needles into points in the body to restore and balance the normal flow of energy and improve overall health. (Johns Hopkins University. 2024) In traditional Chinese medicine or TCM, the body comprises a series of meridians/channels that supply energy flow or qi/chi.
Plantar fasciitis is a common disorder affecting the foot. The condition occurs when the plantar fascia, designed to absorb the forces that travel through the arch of the foot, becomes overloaded. When the bottom of the foot is constantly subjected to high amounts of strain, it leads to ligament degeneration, pain, and inflammation. The most common symptom is heel pain, the first thing an individual experiences in the morning or after a long day of work and activities. Anyone can get plantar fasciitis, but those who are more prone to the condition include individuals with:
- Tight calf muscles
- High arches
- Obesity issues
- Who participate in repetitive activities. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2022)
- The disorder is first treated conservatively with physical therapy focusing on relieving the pain symptoms and restoring foot and ankle flexibility.
- Orthotics or custom-fabricated shoe inserts can help protect the foot and correct foot positioning,
- Night splints help hold the foot in a flexed position at night.
- Anti-inflammatory medications may also be used. (American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 2022)
Benefits of Acupuncture
Acupuncture and its effectiveness are still being studied, but there is evidence suggesting that it is beneficial in plantar fasciitis treatment.
- One review found significant pain improvements in individuals who had acupuncture for the condition compared to individuals who received standard treatments like stretching, orthotics, and strengthening. (Anandan Gerard Thiagarajah 2017) The same review also found benefits when comparing acupuncture to a placebo version of the treatment, further reinforcing the findings.
- Another medical review found that acupuncture helped alleviate heel pain and improve daily function when combined with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications/NSAIDs such as ibuprofen or naproxen. (Richard James Clark, Maria Tighe 2012)
While acupuncture plantar fasciitis therapy is beneficial, it is important to remember there can be potential side effects that can include:
- Pain in the area where the needles were placed.
- Bleeding in the area where the needles were placed.
- Bruising or skin discoloration.
- Allergic reaction or contact dermatitis/itchy rash.
- Dizziness or light-headedness.
- Nausea or vomiting (Malcolm W C Chan et al., 2017)
The chances of a serious adverse side effect are relatively low when undergoing acupuncture on the foot.
Acupuncture Points and Sensations
The ways acupuncture works are not yet fully understood, but like other neuromusculoskeletal therapies, the process activates the body’s healing properties.
- Inserting a needle into the body’s points stimulates the central nervous system.
- This leads to the release of chemicals in the brain, spinal cord, and muscles that promote healing.
- These same chemicals and reactions also reduce the body’s sensation of pain. (Teng Chen et al., 2020)
Number of Sessions
The amount of sessions that acupuncture takes to provide pain relief varies from person to person and case to case.
- One review found that treating plantar fasciitis weekly with acupuncture produced significant pain relief after four to eight weeks. (Anandan Gerard Thiagarajah 2017)
- This corresponds to another medical review that included a study showing significantly improved pain levels in individuals undergoing weekly acupuncture sessions for four weeks. (Richard James Clark, Maria Tighe 2012)
Individuals are recommended to consult a healthcare provider about personalized treatment plans and if they have a bleeding disorder, are on blood thinner medications, or are pregnant.
Understanding Plantar Fasciitis
Johns Hopkins University. (2024). Acupuncture (Health, Issue. www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/wellness-and-prevention/acupuncture
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2022). Plantar fasciitis and bone spurs. (Diseases and Conditions, Issue. orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/plantar-fasciitis-and-bone-spurs
Thiagarajah A. G. (2017). How effective is acupuncture for reducing pain due to plantar fasciitis?. Singapore medical journal, 58(2), 92–97. doi.org/10.11622/smedj.2016143
Clark, R. J., & Tighe, M. (2012). The effectiveness of acupuncture for plantar heel pain: a systematic review. Acupuncture in medicine : journal of the British Medical Acupuncture Society, 30(4), 298–306. doi.org/10.1136/acupmed-2012-010183
Chan, M. W. C., Wu, X. Y., Wu, J. C. Y., Wong, S. Y. S., & Chung, V. C. H. (2017). Safety of Acupuncture: Overview of Systematic Reviews. Scientific reports, 7(1), 3369. doi.org/10.1038/s41598-017-03272-0
Chen, T., Zhang, W. W., Chu, Y. X., & Wang, Y. Q. (2020). Acupuncture for Pain Management: Molecular Mechanisms of Action. The American journal of Chinese medicine, 48(4), 793–811. doi.org/10.1142/S0192415X20500408
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