With 26 bones, 33 joints, and over 100 tendons, your foot is a complex piece of machinery. At any place in that mix, it’s possible for a problem in the foot to cause pain. It’s also hard for the foot to heal if we’re walking around on it all day.
Enter acupuncture. Recent research shows that acupuncture treats pain better than non-acupuncture treatments. In fact, acupuncture has been shown to bring fresh blood and oxygen – the necessary components for healing – to tissues where acupuncture is applied. All of that together spells foot and ankle pain relief for you.
What are the different kinds of ankle and foot pain treated by acupuncture?
Plantar fasciitis is a pain in the sole of the foot, where a thick band of tissue, the plantar fascia, runs from your heel bone to your toes. The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis causes a stabbing pain in the sole of the foot. The pain from plantar fasciitis is generally worst when you first get out of the bed in the morning. The pain you feel first thing in the morning likely improves after walking around a bit. This is because the plantar fascia softens up. Unfortunately, the pain usually returns after long periods of inactivity. Plantar fasciitis is common in runners and is an unfortunate side effect of barefoot shoes. People who are overweight and pregnant women are also at risk of developing plantar fasciitis.
There are three kinds of arthritis that affect the foot and ankle: Osteoarthritis (known as “wear and tear” arthritis), rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease), and post-traumatic arthritis. The most common sites of foot and ankle arthritis are the ankles, the hindfoot, the midfoot and the joint of the first toe. Symptoms include pain, tenderness, swelling, stiffness and restricted movement, and difficulty walking.
Morton’s neuroma causes a pain in the foot, specifically the ball of the foot. Morton’s neuroma often appears between the third and fourth toes. Morton’s neuroma is a thickening of the covering around one of the nerves in the toes. Morton’s neuroma is likely caused by irritation, injury or pressure to the nerve. People describe the discomfort of Morton’s neuroma as the feeling of standing on a fold in their sock. Morton’s neuroma can also cause sharp, burning pain in the ball of the foot. In some cases, your toes may also burn or feel numb.
Gout is a kind of arthritis in which urate crystals form in your joints. This causes excruciating pain. Urate crystals form when there are high levels of uric acid in the blood. Uric acid is made from the breakdown of purines. Purines occur naturally in certain foods, such as organ meats, anchovies, herring, asparagus, and mushrooms. Gout attacks are sudden and the pain is severe. The affected joints will be red and tender. The most commonly affected joint is the one at the base of the big toe. Men develop gout more often than women, but the risk of developing gout in women increases after menopause. Most patients report an acute gout attack waking them in middle of the night with a burning sensation in the big toe. During a gout attack, it is difficult to put weight on the affected foot.
An ankle sprain is a common injury. An ankle can be sprained when you twist or turn your ankle in an odd way, thereby stretching the ligaments that hold your ankle together. In extreme cases, the ligaments can even be torn. Most sprained ankles are injuries to the ligaments on the outside of the ankle. Here’s a video of how a typical ankle sprain happens.
Heel spur and bone spur
A bone spur is a tiny growth of bone that grows along the edges of bones. A bone spur is also called an osteophyte. Bone spurs can occur in the spine or in joints. Bone spurs are associated with wear in tear, so areas that are under a lot of stress are likely affected. For this reason, the heel is also a common site of bone spur development, called a heel spur. Most bone spurs are asymptomatic, so go unnoticed before they grow to a size that will cause pain.
Shin splints a common name for pain that occurs along the shinbone (tibia). People feel the pain of shin splints during physical activities, like running. They are caused by too much force being exerted on your shinbone and the connective tissues between the muscles and the tibia. Shin splints are common in runners and athletes playing sports that involve running, like basketball, soccer or tennis.
Achilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the tendon that attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone. Achilles tendinitis occurs in runners and other running-intensive sports. Achilles tendinitis is caused by overuse, vigorous exercise, jumping, and other movements that strain the tendon and calf muscles. Serious cases of Achilles tendinitis can end in tendon rupture, which requires surgery to be repaired.
How is ankle and foot pain diagnosed and treated by a doctor?
Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam and order imaging of the affected site (X-ray, MRI, CT scan). A doctor will suggest rest, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications or injections, and in some cases surgery.
How is ankle and foot pain evaluated and treated by an acupuncturist?
Regardless of the type of foot or ankle pain you are experiencing, the first thing I determine is the location of the discomfort and affected acupuncture meridians. This will allow me to select which meridians I need to use to regulate any blockages that might be causing pain.
In addition to treating the pain, you are feeling in your foot or ankle, I also review a patient’s overall health. By treating a person holistically, the body becomes stronger and pain problems are less likely to return after you experience pain relief.
Because the foot and ankle are easily submerged, I often use herbal soaks to support the acupuncture treatment. Herbal soaks deliver medicine directly the site of pain. This improves circulation and encourages fresh blood and oxygen to come to the foot, speeding healing.