I’m a pretty keen trail-runner. It’s one of my favourite ways to unwind. I also live in the Blue Mountains, where it’s a pretty popular thing to do, so there’s plenty of like-minded people. I mean, who wouldn’t want to run oodles of kilometres on rough terrain where there’s no such thing as flat ground, just hills and hills and more damn hills? As a result, I get to hear from people with all of those classic runner’s injuries. Today, we’re going to discuss one, and possible treatment for it: Acupuncture for Plantar Fasciitis!
The plantar fascia is a band of ligament-type tissue that stretches from your heel bone, along the bottom of your foot, to the bones that make up the ball of your foot and toes. It helps support the arch of your foot (along with other muscles) and keeps it nice and springy. It’s part of your body’s natural suspension system. Just like suspension, it needs to have the right amount of “spring”. Too hard makes harsher impacts as you walk or run, and too loose reduces the support for your arch.
“Fasciitis” means the fascia is inflamed, and there’s no hard and fast rule for why it happens. You might be more likely to get it if you:
- Are overweight
- Run a lot
- Walk a lot
- Wear high heels frequently
- Wear no shoes frequently
- Have high arches
- Have low arches
- Pronate your foot excessively when running or walking
- Have tight calf muscles
- Have heel spurs
- Have poor posture
As you can see, there’s not much of a common factor there, other than having feet, and using them.
Typical treatments for plantar fasciitis include calf strengthening and stretching, foot and ankle strapping, and orthotics (inserts for your shoes).
In Chinese medicine, the pain is diagnosed as “stagnation of blood and qi” (that’s pronounced “chee” and roughly translates as “energy”). According to other signs and symptoms, further diagnoses may include issues with your Kidney (that’s the main acupuncture meridian involved), or perhaps the Liver (it’s got a special relationship with muscles and tendons).
Acupuncture for plantar fasciitis may use several acupuncture points. Local points include Kidney 1 and Extra Point Shi Mian (on the bottom of the foot). Further points may include Kidney 3 and Bladder 60 (next to your achilles tendon) or calf points like Bladder 56 & 57.
Other Chinese medicine techniques that may be used are gua sha (scraping) or moxibustion (warming a point using “moxa” – artemesia vulgaris – a herb).
For those people who get into the nitty gritty stuff, here’s some relevant articles about acupuncture for plantar fasciitis:
First is a study comparing normal treatments (stretching, nSAID medications) with those same treatments plus acupuncture. Yep, works better!
Karagounis, P, Tsironi, M, Prionas, G, Tsiganos, G,& Baltopoulos, P, 2011, Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis in Recreational Athletes; Two Different Therapeutic Protocols, Foot & Ankle Specialist, vol 4 no.4, pp226-234
Next is a systematic review of literature about acupuncture for plantar heel pain. It found evidence to support the use of acupuncture.
Clark, JR, & Tighe, M, 2012, The Effectiveness of Acupuncture for Plantar Heel Pain: A Systematic Review, Acupunct Med, Vol 30, pp298-306
And lastly a study comparing two different acupuncture points to treat plantar fasciitis. Both groups reported less pain (Hurray!); With one reporting better results than the other (double hurray!).
Zhang, SP, Yip, T, & Li, Q, 2011, Acupuncture Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis:
A Randomized Controlled Trial with Six Months Follow-Up, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, vol 2011, p1-10