Heel spurs and plantar fascitis are commonly connected together when discussing heel pain, but they are not the same thing. A heel spur is a calcium deposit on the calcaneus or heel bone. It is diagnosed by x-rays showing a protrusion of bone off the heel. Plantar fascia is the connective tissue surrounding the muscles of the sole of the foot running from the heel to the ball of the foot. It helps maintain the arch of the foot and transmits weight across the foot with activity. Plantar fascitis is an inflammation of this tissue and presents as pain on the bottom of the foot. While 70% of patients with plantar fascitis have heel spurs, 50% of patients with heel spurs do not have plantar fascitis. Therefore it is not known for certain if one diagnosis is dependent or due to the other.
The main symptom that patients report is severe pain when they first stand in the morning. The pain may subside after a few minutes but usually returns later in the day after prolonged standing or activity. Pain may be anywhere on the sole of the foot but commonly manifests on the front and bottom of the heel. It is most often associated in rapid weight gain, prolonged periods of standing or an increase in athletic activity (especially in runners).
Is Acupuncture an Effective Treatment?
Acupuncture can help to relax the muscles and connective tissue of the foot, decrease inflammation and stimulate the body to release endorphins. This moderates the pain response as healing accelerates.
It is important to recognize and adjust any lifestyle factors that may contribute to the heel pain. Decreasing physical activity, limiting the amount of time spent standing or addressing weight issues is often helpful. In addition, stretching the calf muscles on a regular basis and examining one’s footwear is useful.
Combining acupuncture, lifestyle adjustments and limiting the amount of time standing can provide long lasting relief from heel and foot pain. Yet often people compensate for the heel pain by walking differently and changing their posture. This leads to pain in other parts of the body such as the legs, hips and lower back. Acupuncture treatments can help “re-balance” the body by releasing tension in all related parts of the body while focusing on the source of the problem – the feet.