The foot is very complicated and the part of the body that is most prone to aches, pains, and injury. With 26 bones, 33 joints and over a hundred muscles, tendons and ligaments, your feet are highly susceptible to stress.
Injuries to ankles, heels, and feet are common. Often there is little western medicine can do to help. Most treatments that are offered can have side effects or slow recovery times. Alternative medicines have become popular in the U.S. over the last 50 years. Today, patients with all manner of chronic pain are turning to the Chinese medicinal art of acupuncture for relief.
Believed to have been developed in China around 6000 BCE, acupuncture has a long and proven history as an effective treatment for many illnesses and pain relief. The ancient Chinese discovered that an accumulation and thickening of fluids (or qi energy) anywhere in the body causes an obstruction. This is a systematic problem in the biological makeup of the human body and can cause many mental and physical issues.
As more people put their trust in holistic medicines, patients that experience injuries to their feet and heels are finding acupuncture does offer pain relief. Although there is insufficient scientific research to back up the claims, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest acupuncture can be used for healing foot and heel pain. In this guide, we take an in-depth look at how acupuncture works.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Can Acupuncture Help the Feet?
- 2 Is Acupuncture Good for Healing Pain?
- 2.1 Types of Foot and Heel Pain That Can Be Healed
- 2.2 Can Acupuncture Treat Arthritis in Feet?
- 2.3 Does Acupuncture Work for Foot Edema?
- 2.4 Does Acupuncture Work for Ganglion Cyst?
- 2.5 Does Acupuncture Work for Foot Tendonitis?
- 2.6 Does Acupuncture Work for Drop Foot?
- 2.7 Can Acupuncture Help Foot Neuropathy?
- 2.8 Acupuncture for Numbness in Feet
- 3 What Are the Risks of Acupuncture Treatment?
Can Acupuncture Help the Feet?
Just about everyone will experience foot pain in their life. Ailments range from occasional foot cramps or inflammation such as foot bursitis or plantar fasciitis to ongoing problems such as bunions, corns, and athlete’s foot.
Patients that suffer pain in the feet on a regular basis or live with chronic foot pain have found comfort in acupuncture. This ancient Chinese medicine helps to unblock the flow of qi (energy) and improve blood circulation in the foot. An acupuncturist focuses on local tender spots and activates trigger points in the body that balance the flow of energy through the network of meridian lines. You may have heard this called the flow of yin and yang.
Meridian lines span the entire body from head to toe. Moreover, there are pressure points in the feet that are connected with major organs in the body. It is possible for doctors to determine underlying medical conditions by analyzing disturbances in the feet. Acupuncture works by stimulating trigger points that help release blockages in the body. Each point is connected to a pathway through which energy flows. Aches and pains are often due to blocked energy in the meridian pathway.
When meridian points are stimulated and energy is allowed to flow, symptoms will eventually disappear. In many cases, acupuncture will cure the problem, particularly if the issue is caused by emotional or mental stress.
Studies have shown that acupuncture can also help to relieve certain types of foot pain. According to the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, acupuncture was effective for managing various type of pain and can be effective for patients suffering from common foot pains such as plantar fasciitis, a ball of the foot, and heel pain.
What Are the Acupuncture Points for Foot Pain?
Acupuncture involves inserting extremely fine needles into specific pressure points in the foot. Although that sounds painful, the process is virtually pain-free when performed by a certified practitioner. The purpose of acupuncture is to stimulate the life energy that flows through meridian lines in the body. When these networks are blocked, biological systems malfunction and you develop pain, illness, and disease.
Acupuncture encourages the flow of your life energy and releases endorphins into the body; endorphins are natural painkillers. The procedure helps ease discomfort and improves hormone levels, the immune system, and neurotransmitters.
There are meridian points all over your feet; top of the foot, sole, toes, and ankles. If you suffer from problems with your feet, stimulating the right acupuncture points can help reduce the pain and strengthen the muscles. For example, if you have sprained your ankle or have joint pains in the area, manipulate the “Illuminated Sea” point in the inner side of your ankle, just below the bone. Stimulating this point helps to relieve swollen and stiff ankles.
Is Acupuncture Good for Healing Pain?
The jury is still out on acupuncture. Although regarded as one of the most beneficial alternative medicines, there has been little scientific research into the practice to confirm it can heal pain. However, the same can be said for any medical practice. It’s a curious matter, but some treatments work for some people but not on others even when they have the same condition.
Anti-acupuncture sources such as the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the UK and the British Medical Journal claim there is no convincing evidence that acupuncture is effective for reducing pain. However, they are basing their judgment on clinical testing of which there have been very few studies performed.
Proponents of acupuncture look towards clinical results of acupuncture, and there is a high percentage of patients that rate acupuncture. Supporters also argue the ancient Chinese art has been practiced for thousands of years to treat all manner of illnesses – including pain relief. The theory holds that when acupuncture points are stimulated, life energy can flow together with blood circulation and pain-killing neurotransmitters.
Types of Foot and Heel Pain That Can Be Healed
There are a wide variety of problems that can develop in the feet and heels. Most foot pain is caused by improper foot function or poor posture which means the foot impacts the ground in a such a way it causes damage.
Poorly manufactured footwear can also be a contributing factor to foot and heel pain or worsen an existing condition. However, the most common cause of foot pain is when too much stress is applied to the foot from standing all day or walking long distances.
Acupuncturists are familiar with treating all types of illnesses, including foot and heel pain. It is not unusual for people with sports injuries to seek acupuncture treatment together with numerous other types of issues with the foot and ankle.
Listed below are the types of foot, and heel problems acupuncture can potentially help you with.
1] Foot Nerve Pain
Nerve pain in your feet can occur for numerous reasons. It is the result of nerve damage in the peripheral nervous system which relays information from your brain, down the spinal cord and to the rest of your body. Peripheral neuropathy affects the feet and typically causes numbness, stabbing, tingling or burning. In many instances, foot nerve pain can be very uncomfortable and diminish your quality of life.
A neuroscience study revealed acupuncture was effective in relieving nerve pain and demonstrated that therapy is effective regardless of whether the patient is suffering from chronic foot nerve pain or acute pain. Furthermore, it was found that acupuncture releases endogenous opioids which have pain-relieving effects comparable to gabapentin, a drug that is prescribed to relieve symptoms of neuropathy.
A 2016 study published in Neural Regeneration Research also revealed that acupuncture regulates the anti-apoptotic gene Bcl-2 which prevents cell death. As a result, the cells continue to help nerve regeneration. Although not all established medical authorities agree that the results of the findings of the above studies provide sufficient evidence that acupuncture is effective for treating foot nerve pain, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recognized acupuncture as a valid option for treating symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
2] Ball of Foot Pain
Metatarsalgia is the result of chronic trauma to the nerves or a disorder of the joints in the metatarsal region of the foot.
An acupuncture study performed on 14 patients with metatarsalgia revealed that 13 of the patients responded favorably to the treatment. Furthermore, the effect was long-lasting with only two patients suffering a relapse after one year of receiving the treatment. Acupuncture has also been shown to help ease ball of foot pain in patients with Morton’s Neuroma, an excruciating condition caused by the thickening of the tissues in the foot nerves.
The nerve pain often feels like a stabbing or burning pain in the ball of the foot. The conventional approach in western medicine is to prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs, but relief is only temporary. A course of acupuncture three times a week is known to reduce, and even eliminate pain. However, evidence to support these claims is predominantly marketing.
The British Acupuncture Council state there is insufficient evidence to suggest that acupuncture is useful for treating Morton’s Neuroma. They do admit, however, that there are reported cases that it does work, and say that, in theory, acupuncture could “reduce some of the discomforts.”
3] Plantar Fasciitis
One of the most common causes of foot and heel pain is plantar fasciitis. This is where the band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes becomes inflamed from too much stress – often due to overuse.
A joint research program conducted by the Guangzhou Dongsheng Hospital and the city’s Social Welfare House examined clinical investigations and found that 16 out of 19 patients responded positively to acupuncture treatment for plantar fasciitis.
In another investigation, 66 patients were randomly divided into an acupuncture group and a control group that received triamcinolone acetate injections and local blocking therapy. The group that received acupuncture treatment had a success rate of 97% whereas the control group that received pharmaceuticals only had a 76% rate.
4] Athlete’s Foot
Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection that develops between the toes and can spread to the balls of the feet. The fungus thrives in moist, warm conditions and lives on the dead skin and toenails. The western view of athlete’s foot is that the fungus is picked up from changing room floors and communal showers. It is also known to be caused by wearing footwear and socks that make your feet sweat.
Chinese Medicine also considers athlete’s foot is caused by a combination of damp and heat, but also say the infection is caused by an imbalance in the body which allows the invasion to penetrate the skin. This explains how people develop it naturally without catching it from public spaces.
One of the conditions in which athlete’s foot can thrive is when the infected person has weak blood circulation. Blood is needed to help protect the body from fungal infections and bacteria. Athlete’s foot is treated with topical creams. Chinese medicinal practitioners also use herbal formulas.
Acupuncture is only used in patients with athlete’s foot if the patient needs to increase the flow of blood to their feet. There are three acupuncture points to treat athlete’s foot, one in the foot and two in the lower leg.
5] Foot Bursitis
Foot bursitis is an inflammation of the foot caused by too much stress from overuse. It occurs in the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that provides cushioning between bones, tendons, and muscles. If your foot joints feel stiff or are aching and accompanied with a red, swollen area, you probably have foot bursitis. You will probably also feel some pain. In severe cases, you will feel sharp, stabbing pains and bruising.
Fortunately, foot bursitis is nothing to be concerned about. In most cases, it is a reversible condition and usually treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, pharmaceuticals can cause side-effects. If you do not take kindly to anti-inflammatory drugs, consider acupuncture as an alternative option.
Chinese medicine is known to be an effective treatment for inflammations like foot bursitis on the principle it unblocks meridian lines and allows the bodily fluids to flow freely. When specific points in the meridians are stimulated, the body releases the anti-inflammatory hormone, vasoactive intestinal peptides, which inhibits receptors in the cells of your body and helps repair the damage.
6] Foot Cramps
Foot cramps that appear out-of-the-blue are very common. They are caused by a sudden contraction of muscles in the bottom of the foot – usually a result of dehydration or dietary imbalance. They can also be brought on by an anxiety attack.
The basis of traditional acupuncture rests on the concept of unblocking energy to recover the natural flow and rhythm in the body. Acupuncture or acupressure should, therefore, work for foot cramps. It’s no coincidence that a growing number of acupuncturist specialize in sports injuries to treat problems that are the result of exercise.
If you occasionally experience a foot cramp, hold down the affected area for a minute and then release. This should help the flow of ‘qi’ and relax the muscle. However, if you get foot cramps on a regular basis, you should consider changing your diet and drink plenty of water.
7] Diabetic Foot Pain
In recent years, there has been a growing number of small studies to test whether acupuncture has any benefits in treating diabetic patients.
One study published in Nutrition and Diabetes showed that acupuncture helps to lower blood sugar levels and increase insulin. When combined with metformin therapy, acupuncture proved to be more effective than taking metformin on its own. Acupuncture improved insulin sensitivity and lipid metabolism in type 2 patients.
Although more research is required into the effects of using acupuncture to treat diabetic patients, the early signs are that the ancient Chinese alternative medicine can dramatically improve diabetes medication for symptoms of neuropathy.
Acupuncture has been increasingly accepted in the United States since the 1970’s. Today is becoming increasingly popular with fitness fanatics recovering from injury, thanks to its ability to provide foot and heel pain relief. The number of patients seeking treatment for sports injuries has persuaded many acupuncturists in the US to specialize in treating sports injuries.
Acupuncture encourages the electrical charges that flow through the body and by promoting specific meridian lines, informs the brain to release endorphins to damaged areas.
Endorphins are peptides that share the same qualities as opiates such as morphine or heroin. They are what give us a natural high. When opiate peptides interact with cell receptors, they act as a painkiller. Endorphins produce a response to stimuli such as pain. When released from the brain or nervous system, they block pain and control emotion. Acupuncture helps to encourage the release of endorphins and trigger the immune systems natural capacity to heal the body.
According to an interview given by runner, Dr. Robert Roesham M.D. acupuncture can reduce the recovery time from injury if treated quickly. The doctor claims an ankle sprain that would ordinarily take 7 to 14 days to heal can recover witting three days with acupuncture.
You may not feel like it at the time, but inflammation can be good a thing. It’s the body’s natural defense against bacteria, infections, viruses, allergens and foreign bodies.
Inflammation is the body’s way of dilating blood vessels to get more blood to an injury to repair damaged tissue and promote healing. However, inflammation is also accompanied by redness and swelling that can feel sensitive to touch.
Acupuncture has positive inflammatory effects which can reduce the swelling while promoting blood circulation to assist in the preparation of the wound.
Can Acupuncture Treat Arthritis in Feet?
Although arthritis is most commonly associated with the hands, arthritis in the feet is also an infliction that affects millions of Americans as well. Arthritis is an inflammation in your joints and causes stiffness and pain. It mostly affects the small joints of the foot.
There are multiple types of arthritis in the feet, all of which disrupt the quality of life and make it difficult to walk.
There is no cure for arthritis. Acupuncture is known to help ease the pain and can slow the progression of the disease. Anecdotal reports suggest people that manage arthritis of the feet with acupuncture are typically more active and lead fulfilling lives.
Whether acupuncture is effective in treating arthritis is up for debate. The only real suggestion that qualifies as an answer is to try it for yourself.
One of the strengths of Chinese medicine is determining the cause of the symptoms. Sometimes, changing or adapting something you do or wear can help arthritis.
Does Acupuncture Work for Foot Edema?
Edema is swelling in the foot caused by excess water retention. It mainly occurs in the arms, legs, feet, and ankles when the capillaries leak fluid into surrounding tissues. It is also common for feet to swell in hot weather. When temperatures rise, blood vessels expand. Aging and pregnancy are also common causes. However, edema can also be a symptom of underlying conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes.
Acupuncture helps to treat all types of conditions and is proven to reduce swelling. When hair-thin needles are placed at pressure points, the flow of fluids is improved throughout the body. As circulation increases, the muscles relax, nutrients flow freely, and toxins are removed. Performing acupuncture on the arch of the foot and inner ankle relieves water retention and reduces the swelling.
Does Acupuncture Work for Ganglion Cyst?
A Ganglion cyst is a round lump that feels like jelly on the surface of your skin. Although they are noncancerous and are not harmful, they can be disconcerting and unsightly. If they press near a nerve, they can also be painful. Although doctors are not sure what causes ganglion cysts, they typically show up on women between 20 and 40 and in people with osteoarthritis.
They grow out of joint or the lining of a tendon and can occur in hands, wrists, feet, and ankles. Typical treatments include draining away the fluid and injecting a steroid medication. More recently, treatment has been performed with electroacupuncture. The patient reported the cyst was no longer present after 11 days. With conventional surgery, a ganglion cyst removal will take between 2-6 weeks to clear up.
Does Acupuncture Work for Foot Tendonitis?
Tendonitis in the foot can be very painful. Symptoms include sharp, stabbing pains and swelling.
The condition is caused by too much stress on the feet, either by heavy running, long distant walking, jumping or excessive standing. The pain will eventually subside with rest, but if the stress is persistent – such as the inescapable demands of your job – the tendons will pull apart and get worse. Severe cases of tendonitis can cause the Achilles to rupture.
Typical treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, but these can often have side effects. Acupuncture provides an alternative solution. Chinese medicine is becoming increasingly popular in the US. Approximately 3 million people are treated for chronic pain every year by acupuncturists.
There is an insignificant amount of research into Chinese medicine, but the fact that more patients are visiting acupuncturists for issues with chronic pains like tendonitis, it is a strong indication that acupuncture is an effective treatment.
Does Acupuncture Work for Drop Foot?
Also known as perineal nerve palsy, drop foot occurs when a patient loses the ability to live the front part of the foot. Subsequently, the toes drag along the ground while walking. The condition is caused by an injury to a branch of the sciatic nerve which paralyzes or weakens the muscle in the foot. As a consequence, the knee has to compensate and can cause problems in your hips.
Typical causes are due to a nerve, brain or spine disorder, but can also occur from something as innocuous as habitually crossing your legs, kneeling for too long, or wearing a plaster cast that encloses the ankle.
Clinical studies in China showed that all 24 patients that took part experienced improvements after receiving one to four courses of acupuncture. In the west, typical treatments involve physical therapy and braces or splints. Severe cases may even require surgery whereby recovery time can be at least six weeks.
Can Acupuncture Help Foot Neuropathy?
It is caused by damage to the body’s nervous system and affects the arms, legs, fingers, and toes. Symptoms include tingling, numbness, and burning sensations. Conventional treatments include tricyclic antidepressants but can take a few weeks for them to work. They also come with side effects including drowsiness, dry mouth, and dizziness.
Acupuncture does not cause side effects, and although more research is still being done to test the effectiveness of acupuncture, a pilot study confirmed Chinese medicine could improve symptoms more than pharmaceuticals.
Acupuncture for Numbness in Feet
There are many functional reasons why patients get numbness in the feet, such as wearing high heels. While acupuncture has been used to treat the condition effectively, alternative therapies may not be the solution for every case of numbness in the feet.
Acupuncture has been found to treat many forms of numbness in the feet. Before pursuing alternative treatment for numb feet, determine what is causing the condition – but practitioners of Chinese medicine could help you with that too.
What Are the Risks of Acupuncture Treatment?
When carried out by a trained and licensed professional, acupuncture carries little risk and has minor side effects. The most you will suffer from is some minor bruising around the entry point. Having said that, if you are unfortunate enough to engage in the services of a poorly skilled acupuncturist you may suffer injury. For example, if needles are pushed in too deeply and it a nerve or organ.
There is also the risk of infection although this is most unlikely. Infections are caused by needles that have not been thoroughly sterilized or if entry points become infected because they were not sufficiently cared for after your treatment. It should be noted that acupuncture is not for everyone.
If you fall into any of the categories below, there is a potential for complications to arise:
- Bleeding disorder
- If you are taking medication that thins the blood
- Suffer from heart conditions
- Pregnant women should consult their doctor as some acupuncture treatments can trigger premature labor
Regulations for Acupuncture in the United States
Acupuncture initially became popular in the United States in the 1970’s. Almost 50 years later, there has been little funding offered to practitioners to perform studies that can yield results to state whether or not the treatment is effective.
There have been numerous small studies performed that have produced positive results. The body of evidence is growing, but funding is needed for medical institutions to conduct studies that are large enough to deliver indisputable proof.
With growing interest in alternative Chinese medicine, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced regulations in 1996. The laws provide guidelines for teaching and practicing acupuncture. More recently, FDA officials endorsed a blueprint that permits acupuncturist, together with chiropractors, to play a more prominent role in treating chronic pain.
Acupuncture is widely practiced in the US today. There are an estimated 18,000 licensed practitioners, 50% of which are located in New York and California. Patients mostly use acupuncture to treat chronic pain although it can be used for numerous other conditions. Despite the lack of scientific evidence, the only way to determine whether acupuncture will work for you is to try it for yourself.