Relieve heel pain and prevent plantar fascia inflammation
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammatory condition of the plantar fascia which is a thick, fibrous ligament that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel to the front of the foot.
Someone with plantar fasciitis will experience intense pain at the bottom of their heel; in some cases, pain can radiate up the leg causing discomfort in the ankle and calf.
Discover how acupuncture for plantar fasciitis can be an effective modality to relieve heel pain and prevent plantar fascia inflammation.
The cause of plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the plantar fascia ligament which can happen by overstretching this area (the sole of your foot) during exercise and exercising on hard surfaces or with tight calf muscles. Wearing poorly cushioned shoes or sneakers, excessive running or walking, standing up for too long, and carrying excess weight are also contributing factors to plantar fasciitis.
When there is too much pressure on your feet, the ligament can become weak, damaged, or torn causing inflammation, pain, and stiffness. It can make standing or walk difficult and painful. The pain is usually a sharp, stabbing pain in the heel or sole of the foot.
Quite often, muscle tightness can lead to trigger points in the gastrocnemius, soleus, and quadratus Plantae. These muscles can refer to pain to the heel and bottom of the foot which may cause pain that mimics actual plantar fasciitis.
Benefits of acupuncture for plantar fasciitis
Acupuncture has shown to be an effective treatment for plantar fasciitis as it improves plantar heel pain and inflammation through several pathways. It works by inserting the acupuncture needles into specific points to stimulate the nerve endings in the foot to promote the release of neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate pain and inflammation in the body.
Several studies have demonstrated that using acupuncture can significantly reduce pain levels for people with plantar fasciitis over four to eight weeks of acupuncture treatment. One particular study showed that if acupuncture was administered regularly for two weeks, overall pain rating and pressure pain were markedly lowered.
Research also suggests that acupuncture triggers the release of a substance called adenosine which has the ability to promote blood flow to the heel and sole of the foot, and also provides a strong pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory effect.
Acupuncture helps with tissue healing by stimulating the release of fibroblasts; these are the cells found in connective tissue that secrete collagen proteins to maintain tissue health and healing.
During an acupuncture session, the body releases its own opioids which are natural pain killers. Acupuncture has a remarkable effect on the area of the brain that is responsible for pain perception and how the body responds to pain; in particular, it raises the individual’s pain threshold.
Acupuncture treatment for plantar fasciitis
In many cases, trigger points in the lower leg and bottom of the foot are the real reasons for heel and plantar fasciitis pain. A trigger point is a hyperirritable band of muscle that causes a specific pain referral pattern. These are often near where a muscle and nerve meet, causing referred pain, spasms, and irritation.
The main trigger points for addressing plantar fasciitis are the gastrocnemius, soleus, and quadratus Plantae. These muscles are part of the calf and foot muscles which are responsible for flexing the foot at the ankle joint and flexing the leg at the knee joint.
The pain referral patterns of the gastrocnemius and soleus also cause Achilles pain, so in some instances, people may have both Achilles pain and plantar fasciitis pain caused by these areas.
Placing acupuncture needles in the above-mentioned trigger points helps reduce pain by physically releasing the muscle tightness and interrupting pain signals to the brain which results in less pain and more range of motion in the foot, ankle, and lower leg.
How many acupuncture sessions are needed for plantar fasciitis?
Here at Morningside Acupuncture, we recommend having acupuncture treatments once or twice per week for four to six weeks as a starting point. Our acupuncturists will advise you on this during your first session; it will depend on the severity and occurrence of your plantar fasciitis, your medical history, and how well you respond to acupuncture.
Combining physical therapy with acupuncture for plantar fasciitis
Combining acupuncture and dry needling with physical therapy (PT) is an effective way to reduce the pain and inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis. Acupuncture helps to relax the associated foot and leg muscles and release trigger points to reduce plantar fasciitis pain, promote circulation, relieve muscle tightness, and improve range of motion. This enables patients to respond better to physical therapy techniques and exercises because the areas being worked on are more pliable, have a better range of motion, and are in less pain.
As patients work through their physical therapy sessions, the plantar fasciitis pain may get activated during certain exercises or manual techniques as the affected areas regain function and strength. Sticking to acupuncture and PT during the first few weeks is especially important so that these painful and tight areas can be released with acupuncture and then strengthened and rehabbed with PT.
For much soft tissue and sports injuries, using acupuncture and PT together improves strength and range of motion for the patient more quickly than using either one on its own.
Lisbeth Hoyt, a physical therapist at Custom PT in New York City believes that “acupuncture used in conjunction with PT can be extremely beneficial to address the deeper muscular and fascial restrictions that we can’t get to with our hands. Our manual therapy techniques get to the top layers of muscle and fascia but deeper restrictions can prolong recovery if not treated appropriately.”
Lisbeth Hoyt – Physical Therapist at Custom PT
Exercising and doing physical therapy exercises are more effective when there is less muscle tightness because there is less soft tissue restriction and a better range of motion.
Greg Laraia, an athletic trainer at Custom PT and founder of the Streets 101 Running Team, uses acupuncture and physical therapy in his recovery routine. He says that “acupuncture and dry needling coupled with physical therapy is a great tag-team approach to reduce tension and tightness at the muscular level. Using the needles is a great way to help reduce the tension that is sometimes a less painful way to target fascial groups compared to hands-on work. In conjunction, they are a great way to progress any soft tissue irritation.”
How to prevent plantar fasciitis
Invest in good quality sneakers for exercise and make sure they are shock absorbing (with cushioned rubber or foam midsoles) and offer good ankle support.
Don’t wear high heels as they elevate your heel which can put a compressive force on the heel and cause pain.
Going barefoot on hard surfaces is not advisable, especially if you have high arches or flat arches as it may increase the heel pain.
Avoid high-impact exercises such as running, jumping, or fitness classes where there are lots of jolting movements. Instead, opt for low-impact exercises like cycling, yoga, or swimming.
Regular foot and leg stretches are very beneficial and help loosen muscles and reduce heel pain.
Lose excess weight as carrying too many pounds contributes to plantar fasciitis as there is more strain on your leg and foot muscles and ligaments.
Heal plantar fasciitis naturally
Plantar fasciitis is a painful and uncomfortable condition that affects the ligaments in the heel of the foot. It is normally brought on by overextending your calves and heels during exercise; however, poorly cushioned sneakers, being overweight, and tight calf muscles also play a role. Plantar fasciitis can heal naturally by using acupuncture to reduce inflammation and pain, and also by making changes to your footwear and exercise routine. Speak to Morningside Acupuncture sports acupuncturists today to discuss the best treatment approach for your plantar fasciitis.