Alternative therapies are becoming increasingly popular as a supplement to modern medicine. Acupuncture in particular has become commonplace especially when it comes to managing pain.
One of the areas where it is used is in treating heel pain. But how effective is it and are there any side affects you should be concerned about?
Heel pain is usually caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition where the thick band of tissue that connects your heel to your toes gets inflamed.
Plantar fasciitis causes a stabbing pain in the heel that usually occurs in the morning or after long period of seating or standing.
Heel pain can also be caused by tendonitis, arthritis or a stress fracture.
There aren’t any medical treatments for heel pain although you can find some over the counter treatments that may or may not work (e.g. these Plantar fasciitis socks with arch support).
Doctors recommend resting the foot, icing, wearing proper footwear. Many doctors are also increasingly recommending various forms of therapies including acupuncture.
Does acupuncture help reduce heel pain?
A lot of research has been done on the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating various conditions. Most studies have found that it is a safe and effective way of treating pain.
Whether its neck pain, low back pain, knee pain or heel pain, regular acupuncture treatments can keep the pain at bay.
So this is not just some fancy ancient medicine practice; it’s actually an effective way to relieve pain as long as it’s done right.
How acupuncture helps reduce heel pain
While we already know that acupuncture can relieve pain in various parts of the body, we are still not completely sure how it does it. Researchers are still trying to figure out the exact mechanism behind the effectiveness of acupuncture therapy.
But there are some theories.
An acupuncturist uses thin needles (and acupuncture mats) to gently and painlessly puncture the skin at the site of the injury. Experts think that the needles stimulate nerves and muscles. This triggers the release of the body’s own natural painkillers which reduces pain. It also improves blood flow to the site which promotes faster healing.
There is of course the traditional Chinese medicine theory which says that acupuncture restores the body’s energy flow along meridians or pathways in the body. But scientists have never seen evidence of these pathways and so that theory is considered unscientific.
One of the things researchers have uncovered when studying the effects of acupuncture is that its pain-reliving benefits are not long-lasting. You’ll have to undergo regular treatments to fully manage heel pain.
The total number of treatments will depend on the severity of heel pain. The acupuncturist may recommend months of treatment or just 10 sessions.
Note however that acupuncture is only good for managing heel pain. It does not treat the root cause. Before you visit an acupuncturist, see a doctor first for a full diagnosis.
Most experts agree that acupuncture is generally a safe procedure. It is minimally invasive and painless.
That’s not to mean there aren’t any risks. The biggest danger comes from the use of unsterilized needles. This could cause a serious infection.
While the needles do not penetrate deep into the skin, there is still danger of puncturing vital organs or damaging a nerve especially if the acupuncturist is not skilled or experienced.
That’s why it’s important that you only work with a certified and highly experienced professional. Ask questions about the procedure, what to expect and health risks.
Do not rely on acupuncture only to treat heel pain. Use it with other treatments for more effective pain management.
But first make sure you know what the root cause of the pain is.
Some of the possible causes include too much stress on the feet because of running or sports activities, wearing ill-fitting or low quality footwear, being overweight or having an abnormal foot structure (e.g. having a flat arch).
This is why it’s important to see a doctor first. You can work together to find out the possible cause of the pain and the best way to remedy it.
As you try out acupuncture make sure you also wear comfortable shoes with good support. Also check that you exercise the right way. You may need to switch to low-impact exercises to prevent further injury to your foot.
The doctor may also recommend additional therapies such as heat therapy, icing, massage or electrotherapy using a foot massager.