Last Workout Wednesday, when I talked about my new running shoes, I alluded to the fact that I’ve been dealing with a minor injury since about January or February. It started with very tight calves, that would occasionally cramp up so badly I could hardly take a step! Because I didn’t change shoes or deal with my tight calves, this eventually turned into one of the dreaded but most common runner’s injuries … plantar fasciitis.
Once the plantar started getting worse around May, I got an x-ray to make sure there was no bone spur, and an MRI to confirm that I wasn’t doing more damage by continuing to run. Basically, the doctor told me that I could take 3-6 months off of any exercise and have it heal, or I could keep running and exercising, and it would likely heal in 9-12 months. It was an easy decision for stubborn, exercise-loving me … I kept running! It has been painful at times, and sometimes I had to sacrifice high-quality runs, but I’m grateful that I’ve been able to run through it and still get to the point where I have almost healed!
Over the past several months, I’ve tried a lot of different treatments for my plantar fasciitis. My massage therapist and chiropractor (at the amazing Inwood Chiropractic) have been treating it with deep tissue massage, adjustments, and therapeutic ultrasound. I wear this compression sock when I sleep most of the time, I stretch my calves regularly, I roll my foot over a lacrosse ball or a frozen water bottle, I ice it as much as I can, and of course, I changed shoes (like I told you in this post).
In addition to all of this, I just started seeing an incredible acupuncturist to add to my suite of treatments. Although I was already seeing great progress in healing, I can tell that acupuncture and other holistic treatments are going to get me the rest of the way back to optimal health. So, I invited my friend and licensed acupuncturist, Amy Moll (check out her impressive bio at that link!), to share her thoughts on treating plantar fasciitis naturally. Take it away, Amy!
Healing Plantar Fasciitis Naturally
I have noticed a distinct trend as to when patients start trickling into my office for the treatment of plantar fasciitis – it’s always around spring or fall. I think there are several reasons for this:
- People are switching footwear – going from Uggs to flip flops or high heels (and other shoes with poor support for the sake of fashion), or vice versa.
- People start running more. (Megan’s note: YAY! How could you not? The weather is so beautiful in spring and fall! But, of course, building up gradually is critical, and runners aren’t always patient enough to do this).
- People are transitioning over to minimalist shoes such as Vibrams, New Balance Minimus, or Merrell Barefoot for weightlifting, walking, and running. This transition process can be tricky. You aren’t breaking in your shoes as much as you are “breaking in” your feet to a different way of functioning, and it takes way more than a few weeks to do that. Many excited overzealous folk try to do too much too soon, and end up with plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis, or other pain syndromes.
As an acupuncturist, I love treating plantar fasciitis because of the immediate feedback I get from patients. I’ve had the same scenario play out many times. A patient comes in with pain on the bottom of their foot, and an hour later they get off the table, give me a quizzical look and say “should I already be feeling better? Because I do.” That’s when I smile sweetly and say “yes, but please don’t go out for a 6 mile jog just yet.” (Megan’s note: yes, I said almost exactly those words!)
People do get immediate results, however, regular treatments for 2-3 months are necessary to truly allow the body to heal. We can’t avoid using our feet. Often people feel better, then they get worse again after a long day of standing and walking, and there is an up and down bumpy road to recovery. (Megan’s note: take it from me, the road to recovery can be 9+ months, if you’re too stubborn to take time off of running!) I use a lot of different tools and techniques in the treatment of plantar fasciitis that are very effective. Before I dive into those, I want to explain a little about the fascia.
What is fascia?
Fascia, also called connective tissue, is a layer of tissue that surrounds our muscles almost like cling-wrap. When we injure an area, it causes the fascia to “bunch up” and “stick” to the muscles, rather than glide smoothly along the muscle, much like skiing with no wax on your skis – painful. There is a lot of recent research analyzing the amount of nerve endings in the fascia and what they are discovering is that fascia can transmit 10 times the information, including pain signals, to the brain than muscle. This means that when the fascia is injured, or not moving freely, the nerves are sending pain signals to the brain. This is where acupuncture comes in.
My natural medicine tool bag
Acupuncture has been shown via functional MRI imaging research to alter the tension within the fascia. When a needle is inserted in the body and then twisted, it wraps around the fascia effectively “winding” it up. When the needle is removed, the tissue unwinds, and goes back to a relaxed and more mobile state. Acupuncture has a huge impact on improving fascial movement. In addition to acupuncture, there are three adjunctive therapies I love to use:
- Myofascial release is a type of massage that works specifically on freeing up the fascia.
- Gua sha is a technique used in Oriental medicine to help break up scar tissue and adhesions that form within muscles and connective tissue. If your foot feels “crunchy” when you massage the bottom of it, you could benefit from some gua sha! (Megan’s note: I had this done all up and down my leg! It’s not the most comfortable thing ever, but it works so well!)
- Kinesiotape is a special type of tape that I apply to the bottom of the foot to help relieve pain in plantar fasciitis. It usually lasts 2-3 days before needing to reapply.
A frequent question…
“So, if my foot hurts, why are you sticking a needle in my neck?” The plantar fascia is part of a long, completely connected sheet of connective tissue that runs from the bottom of the feet, up the back of the legs, all the way up the back, and wraps around the head to attach in the front of the skull. It’s referred to as the Superficial Back Line. Imagine the back side of your body is the top of a mattress and this sheet of connective tissue is like a fitted bed sheet. If you grab a corner of that sheet and twist and bunch it up, it’s going to put tension on all three other corners and everything in-between. Acupuncture points along the back of the legs, on the back, and the neck, help to relieve tension in all areas of the “bed sheet” including the one corresponding to the bottom of your hurting foot. I always like to make the disclaimer that there are many, many ways to explain how acupuncture works, this is just one simple analogy appropriate for the current topic.
To learn more about how acupuncture and the other modalities discussed above, feel free to e-mail Amy at email@example.com, or visit her blog, or practitioner website, Healing Response Acupuncture.
So tell me in the comments … Have you ever dealt with plantar fasciitis or any other chronic injury? Have you tried acupuncture?