Kaufman: Treating plantar fasciitis with traditional Chinese medicine
Between the heel bone and the toes runs a strong fascia or ligament. It is made of connective tissue and supports the arch of the foot.
The foot has two arches, a length arch and a width arch. The length arch is the one most commonly affected by plantar fasciitis.
When the arch is round and strong the bones of the foot are in the right position and there is balance in the foot.
When the arch flattens, a lot of strain on the bones and surrounding ligaments is created, resulting in pain, which can easily become excruciating, if not treated properly. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain.
Athletes, especially those running on hard surfaces, put a lot of strain on their arches and are prone to developing plantar fasciitis.
People carrying extra weight and women who are pregnant also put extra stress on the arch, and the bones and ligaments often cannot recover from the continuous strain. Jobs that require much standing and walking can also contribute to plantar fasciitis, as can wearing shoes with inadequate support. In all cases, the fascia gets overstressed and becomes inflamed.
Western medicine treats this condition with rest and ice in the acute stage and later orthotics may be prescribed.
Anti-inflammatory drugs may also be helpful. Very important is the strengthening of the intrinsic muscles in the foot, which support the arch.
These muscles have to be strong and wearing the wrong shoes can make them weak. In an acute stage, taping the foot to support the arch, in combination with muscle strengthening exercises, is a good approach to this problem.
Stretching the plantar fasciia, Achilles tendon, and calf muscles can also help with recovery.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the sole of the foot is primarily the area of the kidney meridian.
It is where the kidney meridian begins and finds its way up to the chest. Close to the fascia runs the bladder meridian, so weakness in the kidney and bladder meridians can result in plantar fasciitis among other symptoms.
Internal weaknesses such as these can be a result of our genetic constitution, our habits and lifestyle, or a combination of these factors. Pain and inflammation in Chinese terms are stagnation of blood and qi-energy in the involved meridians, because of a malfunctioning of the corresponding organs.
Acupuncture treatment will focus on kidney points, bladder points, gallbladder points and so called “ah shi” points, or local pain points. Allowing the foot muscles to rest and recover is also important- this can mean supporting them with properly fitting shoes, taking time off from exercise or a training routine, or reducing the amount of time you spend on your feet while recovering.
Acupuncture, together with some rest, can offer relief in foot pain and improved function in a relatively short amount of time.
However, plantar fasciitis can be a stubborn problem, simply because we require our feet for almost every daily activity, and this constant use can be a major barrier to healing.
Results are quicker if the problem is addressed early on and if treatment is continued regularly until the problem is fully resolved, to prevent the problem from returning.
Plantar fasciitis is another example of how acupuncture can successfully treat a common ailment, without using medication or surgery, but simply by harnessing the strength and energy that exists within our bodies.
James Kaufman is a registered acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis Street.