Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain. It is a condition where the fascia, the connective tissue, of the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed.

Plantar Fascia: The plantar fascia is a thick, flat ligament that connects your heel to the base of your toes. Functionally it works to absorb shock and support the arch of your foot.

Tarsal Tunnel: The tarsal tunnel is a narrow space on the inside of the ankle next to the ankle bones. The tunnel is covered with a thick ligament that protects the arteries, veins, tendons, and nerves contained within. 

Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis

  • Stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel.
  • Pain is typically worse in the morning and the first steps of the day.
  • Pain is often aggravated by long periods of standing or coupons standing after sitting.
  • The pain is usually worse after exercise, but not during exercise.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common podiatry complaint caused by repetitive stress to the connective tissue in the foot. Being overweight, wearing poor-fitting shoes, and exercising habits could contribute to this condition. For example, a significantly overweight person who has a job that requires frequent standing and walking could develop plantar fasciitis, just like an athlete who trains hard and has zero body fat can develop the condition. 

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Risk Factors for Developing PF

Anyone can develop plantar fasciitis, but some factors may predispose certain individuals to the condition, including:

Age: This condition is most common between 40-60 years old. As the body begins to age, it becomes less tolerable of the micro-traumas that our lifestyle choices inflict on it.

Exercise: Most exercise is good for PF because it promotes circulation and healing. However, if you intensely train for any activity that is hard on your feet, you can expect to have problems. This could include runners, dancers, and aerobic instructors.

Obesity: Added weight is hard for the body to carry, and the tendons and ligaments in your lower legs and feet are the most affected. If you’re overweight and on your feet, a lot or overweight and inactive, both scenarios could lead to problems with your plantar fascia.

Occupation: If you work long hours on your feet all day, you’ll be more prone to developing problems. This could include factory workers, servers, and retail associates.

Inner Gate Health & Wellness can help you find relief from pain through holistic and complementary medicine practices like acupuncture, massage therapy, naturopathic medicine, and more. Find out more about the conditions we treat.

Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis

Treatment of plantar fasciitis is designed to reduce the strain on the plantar fascia by treating local muscles and improving the blood flow to the affected tissue, allowing it to heal.

Medicine: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen can help you manage the pain and reduce associated inflammation. You can take frequent doses for several weeks. But there are known adverse health effects associated with the long-term use of this class of drugs. Therefore it’s more of a way to temporarily relieve pain than a treatment or cure.

Steroids: Some doctors provide localized pain relief using a steroid injection directly into your plantar fascia. This helps to reduce inflammation and pain for about four to six weeks. In some cases, this may be sufficient to promote healing. But it’s not always enough. 

Acupuncture: Acupuncture treatment works to relieve pressure on the calf muscles and the foot muscles that attach near or at the attachments of the plantar fascia. Acupuncture points target a region known as the tarsal tunnel. This is an important region in the ankle where nerves and blood flow. Tension in this region can impede blood flow and is thought to be an underlying contributor to the development of this condition.

Manual Therapy: Soft tissue work over the heels, plantar fascia, and ankle are also beneficial for promoting circulation. Pushing inflamed fluids out of the region and gently working the attached muscles can reduce pain and improve recovery times.

Therapeutic Exercises and Stretching: Once the clinician has determined the condition’s specifics, therapeutic exercises and stretches can be taught and practiced.

Here are two simple at-home exercises that will aid with recovery:

Calf Stretch: Lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and the heel on the ground. Place the other leg in front, with the knee bent. To stretch the calf muscles, push your hips toward the wall in a controlled fashion. Hold the position for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each foot. A strong but comfortable pull in the calf should be felt during each stretch.

Plantar Fascia Stretch: This stretch is performed in the seated position. Cross your affected foot over the knee of your other leg. Grasp the toes of your painful foot and slowly pull them toward you in a controlled fashion. If it is difficult to reach your foot, wrap a towel around your big toe to help pull your toes toward you. Place your other hand along the plantar fascia. The fascia should feel like a tight band along the bottom of your foot when stretched. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat it ten times for each foot. This exercise is best done in the morning before standing or walking.

Walking: For some, a daily walking regime is sufficient to improve circulation to the affected area and promote healing. Of course, if your PF is due to intense over-exertion, your circulation is probably fine, and more physical movement is unlikely to help. 

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Will Plantar Fasciitis Heal On Its Own?

Most of the treatments used for plantar fasciitis revolve around rest and lifestyle changes. In fact, most doctors prefer a hands-off approach because most conditions do improve within a year. However, the pain that PF causes can range from mildly irritating to completely debilitating. And if you’re experiencing frequent pain at the more intense end of the spectrum, you’ll be more motivated to find relief. 

Here’s what you need to know. If left untreated, mild plantar fasciitis can become more severe. And in severe cases, if the micro-traumas causing the condition aren’t removed through lifestyle changes, the tendon could rupture. And the last thing that you want is more pain. This is where acupuncture for PF can help.

How Acupuncture Improves PF

Acupuncture is a complementary medicine treatment that uses needles to penetrate the skin at specific pressure points. Acupuncture originated in eastern medicine but is now widely practiced worldwide, providing effective treatment options for many different types of conditions. Acupuncture can be used to alleviate pain, improve mental health symptoms, promote fertility, stop nausea, and much more.

When this treatment is used to remediate heal pain, it provides relief in several ways. First, inserting needles at the source of the pain produces a local effect on nerve endings that reduces pain. When the body is penetrated with acupuncture needles, it produces a substance called adenosine which has pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties. So, in this way, the needles stimulate the body to self-heal. The treatment also boosts blood flow to the area and stimulates fibroblasts, a special type of cell that promotes tissue healing. 

The brain response to acupuncture has been widely studied. Imaging shows that pain response diminishes during acupuncture treatments thanks to producing another natural substance in the body that acts as an opioid pain killer. This means that the effects of acupuncture treatment are both local to the area being treated, like the heel, and systemic throughout the entire body.

Related: How to Find a Good Acupuncturist

What to Expect from Your First Acupuncture Session

Most practitioners start with standard diagnostics, similar to a clinical experience in western medicine. This includes taking a full medical history and assessing the condition and pain level of the individual. The first difference you will notice is that many acupuncturists are holistic practitioners. They’re not as inclined to write a prescription or even focus solely on your heel pain. Instead, they will ask questions about your lifestyle and footwear choices along with many other seemingly unrelated questions about your habits and health. The goal is to treat your health as a whole instead of narrowly focusing on one condition that may very well be secondary to other factors.

For acupuncture in the lower leg and foot, you should be able to remain fully clothed and comfortable, removing only shoes and socks. You’ll be positioned on a treatment table, and needles will be inserted at specific points in your lower leg and heel. Then, you’ll remain seated and still for about 20 minutes while the needles stimulate your body to respond.

Acupuncture treatments typically last for three to six weeks, depending on your treatment needs and progress. However, you should notice improvement within a week or two–if not immediately. 

Inner Gate Health & Wellness is committed to improving your overall health, wellness, and quality of life. We offer services like acupuncture, chiropractic, and sports medicine interventions to help your body heal. Learn more today.