Pain in the Heel and Acupuncture

The heel is a very small part of our body, but at times can be very painful. Do you know that many pains in the heel are not always local area problems, but they may be associated with the internal organs, or blockage of certain channels along the body. In this article I will be looking at how to find the cause of the pain in the heel, and how to fix that.

Symptoms of pain in the heel

Pain in the heel is a very common symptom presented in the clinic and plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of this. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation and irritation of the plantar fascia, the connective tissue that supports the arch.

It occurs in all types of athletic and active individuals, however, simply walking and standing on a hard surface may also cause symptoms.  It can occur in all age groups, however in my clinic experience, the middle and older age groups experience it more often. The pain usually starts with mild pain in one foot, and if not taken care of the pain will become more severe.

Pain can be associated with puffiness, and can spread to the ankle area or along the arch. This disorder has a predictable aggravation of pain and stiffness in the morning when taking the first steps of the day or upon standing after prolonged sitting or rest. The symptoms may be alleviated as the patient ‘warms up’ but then worsen again at the end of a workout or day. Most people don’t feel pain while they are sleeping or resting.  It is frequently associated with a change in training, such as increased mileage, hills or speed.  Or a change in footwear or a ‘wearing out’ of footwear.

Some texts suggest that up to 80% of these injuries are due to excessive foot pronation and so biomechanical imbalances are important to address.

Commonly there is tenderness on the inside of the heel bone.  It is usually a repetitive stress disorder due to accumulation of micro-trauma.

Causes of Heel Pain from a TCM persceptive

In TCM internal organ imbalance may be a minor or even major cause of pain. It is assessed with questioning, looking at the tongue and feeling the pulses.
Common patterns are:

(i) Kidney Weakness:

In Chinese Medicine the kidney channel flows to the heel, and also covers most of the sole of the foot. It also gives essence to nourish the bones. When a person’s kidney is weaker
the sole of the foot, or heel will be lacking support from the kidney energy and channel and in blood supply, which leads to pain. There is more pain in the heel after standing or walking for long periods of time, and the pain lessens with rest.

With this type of pain the body may also experience the following symptoms: Lack of energy, lower back pain, heaviness or weakness in the legs, frequent urination at night, waking early, poor memory, lower libido, impotence and early menopause.

My suggestion if you suffer this type of pain in the heel and some of the other symptoms mentioned above is to:

a) Protect your lower back while doing things such as exercise, working etc

b) Ensure you have enough rest for your lower back, legs and feet after doing heavy
activity or working for long periods of time

c) Ensure you have a good sleep, especially in the early morning

d) Eat certain foods to help your kidney energy such as beef bone soup, goji berries, prawns, scallops, soy beans or tofu.

(ii) Blood Stagnation blocking certain channels:

This is also a very common cause of pain in the heel. It is usually associated with an old injury which may have occurred in the lower part of the body (such as lower back, hips, legs). If the injury has not been completely resolved, this may cause stagnation of the blood and blockage of the channels in that area. After time this can affect the blood supply to the heel. This type of pain is more painful upon standing after sitting or lying down for a long period of time. It is more severe in particular spots on the heel, not the
entire heel itself.

With this type of pain the body may also experience the following symptoms: chronic pain in the lower part of the body which comes and goes (lower back/hip/leg/knee), period pain and dark blood clots with bleeding in women.

My suggestion if you suffer this type of pain in the heel and some of the other symptoms mentioned above is to:
a) Fix the old injury while receiving treatment for the heel also

b) A certain amount of suitable exercise for the lower part of the body to improve circulation and bring blood supply to the heel

c) Avoid standing on cold floors/surfaces with bare feet

d) Soak your feet in warm water for 20 minutes every second day while suffering pain

(iii) Other causes

Besides the common causes mentioned above, the following factors may also cause
pain in the heel: Infection, Lifestyle, Overdoing (Long term standing or walking), and Uncomfortable, worn or ill-fitting shoes.

Treatment of Heel Pain

At the Acupuncture Studio heel pain is treated using BOTH a Western and Eastern approach. From a Western approach, the lower limb biomechanics are examined and any causative imbalances corrected.  If we feel that poor foot biomechanics or poor shoes are playing a role a referral to a podiatrist is made.  Treatment may include massage, strapping, stretches and strengthening exercises.

From an Eastern approach we will check your pulse, tongue and signs and symptoms to diagnose the cause of pain in the heel by traditional methods. Treatment principles will be based on the diagnosis and treatment may include acupuncture, trigger point release, cupping and/or chinese herbal medicine.  Acupuncture not only unblocks the meridians (channels) that contain Chi (vital energy), but also improve the local blood circulation and strengthen the muscle and tendon.

A recent study: › Volume 16, Issue 2 Effect of acupuncture
treatment on heel pain due to plantar fasciitis

This study demonstrates that acupuncture is effective in treating patients with chronic heel pain due to plantar fasciitis and that the addition of trigger point acupuncture in poor or non-responders may be useful.

If you would like to discuss heel pain and the possible treatment options, please contact me at Acupuncture Studio at Pt Chevalier, Auckland city.

Heel Acupuncture

Acupuncture as an Effective Treatment