Plantar fasciitis (PF) is a general cause of heel pain affecting 10% of the population. Symptoms of Plantar fasciitis are generally sharp, acute pain in the sole as well as a heel with strain, or when you stand after periods of rest. The portion of the foot that’s inflamed with plantar fasciitis ‘plantar fascia’ is a tendon that connects to the base of the heel bone and lengthens into five bands that joins to the bones of the toes. As a weight-holding structure, it is influenced by over-use through recurring strain or too little exercise and movement. Small injuries to the tendon after a while cause inflammation and pain. Frequently, a slight bony growth (known as a spur) also develops on your heel bone (calcaneus). This heel pain can also be caused by arthritic conditions, for example, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis.
Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners, in jobs involving prolonged standing or walking, overweight people, and individuals with foot alignment issues or those who have one leg longer than the other. Most cases recover with moderately conservative treatment, which includes home remedies, for instance, rest, stretching and massage, followed by conventional treatments including pain killers, shockwave therapy and steroid injections. However, for many these treatments offer no benefit and they have to seek alternative options. Research tells us that much can be gained by seeking acupuncture treatment.
A review published in Acupuncture in Medicine assessed eight clinical trials on acupuncture for plantar fasciitis. One study found significant improvement when it is combined with standard treatment, whilst in another treatment on acupuncture point PC7 improved threshold for pain and pressure (compared to LI4). Other studies were of lower quality, but consistently reported benefits from acupuncture. Researchers at Guangxi People’s Hospital found that when acupuncture is added to the use of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) foot baths significantly decreases pain and swelling, as well as relapse rates. Another more recent review on 4 studies found that there was significant benefit between 4-8 wks after treatment.
Acupuncture treats plantar fasciitis through a self-healing phenomenon via a few pathways. Needle insertion activates the body’s own opioids, while also increasing the brain’s sensitivity to them. Other pain reducing biochemicals like ATP, adenosine, GABA and substance P are also released. Acupuncture needle manipulation techniques also stimulate cellular responses in the subcutaneous connective tissue increasing the spread and production of fibroblasts, an important healing component. Another mechanism is via the release of nitrous oxide at the acupuncture sites that enable the healing process.
Plantar fasciitis can be extremely debilitating. Acupuncture treatment is effective, however sometimes response can be slow. Therefore a minimum of 6-8 treatments is essential before any significant results can be expected. A combined treatment with acupressure massage can increase the benefits greatly.