Friday, March 29, 2013

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Plantar Fasciitis

Yesterday, I had acupuncture (among other things) for the first time in my life. After a year of trying everything imaginable including, most recently, intense PT and visits to a rheumatologist,  the pain in my feet has not abated. In fact, if you compared the pain a year ago to the pain a week ago, it was the same or worse. As of yesterday, on a scale of 0 to 10 with 0 being no pain and 10 being literally unable to walk, I was still at an 8 most of the time with the occasional 9. So I decided to give non-traditional therapy a try.

I started my visit by explaining to the acupuncturist what my pain is like and what I have done so far. We talked about possibilities for 10 or 15 minutes and he let me know that although he has a good track record treating plantar fasciitis, if I was not significantly improved after 4 or 5 visits, he probably was not going to be able to help me. I appreciate that he does not want to string me along for months, waiting to see if it is going to work. It either works or it doesn't, he said.

After our chat, he instructed me to lie face down on the padded table in the treatment room. The lights were dimmed to try and make it a relaxing experience, but I was nervous. The thought of needles being poked into  various painful parts of my body is not a pleasant one. But I tried to relax, and he started feeling the backs of my legs, and the next thing I knew I had about 4 or 5 long, thin needles inserted into each calf. Like the physical therapists, he tied the plantar fasciitis and foot pain to the calf muscles. Next, he placed a few more needles into each ankle and the sides of my feet. He did *not* insert any needles into my heel, for which I was thankful. He did say that we were starting "gently" but if needed, he could insert the needles directly into the inflamed "nugget" of tissue at my heel at a future visit.

I can't say the needles didn't hurt at all. But they weren't as painful as, say, the needle used for a shot or a blood draw. It was just a teeny poke. Then, he dimmed the lights further, instructed me to lay there and relax, and left the room. He came back in about ten minutes and then turned or twisted each needle in place until I felt a "jolt" at each spot. Then the lights were dimmed and he went out again. This was repeated twice, and then he pulled the needles out. Acupuncture was over!

Next, he performed something called gua sha. He used a Chinese soup spoon to *very* roughly scrape the bottoms of each heel. It reminded me of the Graston technique or the ASTYM I had done in physical therapy before, but oddly, it did not hurt. Even when he went over the usually tender heel points with quite a bit of force, I had no pain. He remarked that he was surprised that it was not painful. The gua sha is to stimulate blood flow and healing.

When that was over, it was time for some moxibustion! I had no idea what he was talking about, but as I was lying there on my stomach, I started to smell something burning. I looked over my shoulder and saw him standing there holding a lighter to a small piece of something. Ever so slightly alarmed, I said "what's that?" and he told me it was a moxa made of mugwort, and he was lighting it and was going to place it on my heel to "warm" it and increase bloodflow and circulation. He placed a piece of smoking mugwort on each heel, right where it's most painful... but the skin is so smooth and tough that the moxa wouldn't stick. "Hang on, I'm just going to tap it into place with a needle," he said. "Take a deep breath." I did, and ::tap tap tap:: he hammered an acupuncture needle through the mugwort and into my heel! More scary than painful, and then I got to lie there and relax to the smell of smoking mugwort on my feet. When that was over, he took them out and declared my session done.

I sat up, wondering. I didn't know if this was some kind of voodoo weirdness or if thousands of years of Chinese tradition might just have something that would help me. I left with strict instructions NOT to ice my feet anymore, but instead, to soak them in hot Epsom salts water for 20 minutes every night, lightly stretching before and after the soak and then coating the heels with an herbal "Pain Terminator" cream. Also, he gave me an herbal supplement for inflammation response (Zyflamend) to take instead of the steroids and NSAIDS I have taken over the past year. "See you next week!" he said. And home I went.

Funny thing. As soon as I left, my calves were sore. They felt like a pulled muscle... both of them. But the pain in my feet was a little better. As the day went on, the calves kept aching but my feet improved. Still sore, but I'd say a 6 out of 10. Later that night, I did my foot soak and stretch, put on the cream, and went to bed.

Today I had to be on my feet for 3 hours. I admit it... I was almost limping by the end of that time. I came home, took my supplements, and put my feet up for ten minutes. When I got back up... very little pain! Normally, being on my feet for a long time has me hurting and limping for hours. But today... knock on wood... I'd say my worst pain was about a 5. As of right now, my calves are only slightly achey and my feet are at about a 3 on the pain scale. I am very hopeful that this treatment... whether it's the acupuncture, the gua sha, the moxibustion, the supplements, or the whole combination... will actually work. We'll see!


Mrs Swan said...

thanks for the play by play. Interesting to get a peek inside. :)

Steelers6 said...

That was very interesting! I had NO idea what takes place with acupuncture, & I appreciated all the detail.

Sounds hopeful, too. Remind me-is the treatment something that can possibly fix it (for some ppl) or is it an ongoing treatment for relief? think there is the potential to eradicate the problem. Hope that's how it goes!

All the terms are completely foreign to me & made me giggle a bit. You end up talking moxibustion & such as though it is so normal, blasé, everyday. Haha

Seems the first appt would be a bit intimidating.

I do apologize if this is a bad question, & may all future readers excuse my ignorance, but is this a definite Asian field, or not necessarily?

Happy Easter!

Lyn said...


it was really an interesting experience! I think there is hope for total healing, but I could have a flare up again down the road. I need to always wear supportive shoes and probably do the stretches and you can bet if I do heal from this, I will take extra care at the first sign of foot pain.

I think historically all of these therapies originate in China, but my practitioner was not Chinese :)

LHA said...

I have seen acupuncture work miracles. I actually had a vet suggest it for a dog who had a bad infection that he couldn't cure and it totally worked. I also have witnessed it work very well on an elderly woman, restoring her ability to walk after being weakened by an illness. I was totally skeptical in both instances and amazed at the results. I hope this works for you. You have certainly tried everything else at this point.

Anonymous said...

that DOES sound intersting Lyn! I had not heard of moxibustion before. I sure hope this is the start of a healing process for you. You suffering has gone on WAY too long!


timothy said...

wonderful, jhin shin jitsu is accupressure just without the needles and i had some success doin that. i think you may be on the right track and have found an honorable practitioner!

Vickie said...

Please be very careful to stay off your feet as much as possible. And to keep your food as clean as possible to get your weight off. All so you do not cycle through again. I am glad this appears it is going to help. Very glad.

Em said...

As a child I had an extensive course of acupressure for severe allergy-related asthma. I was around ten when I had this course, and have not had a severe attack since. Now, early puberty is an age at which some lucky asthmatics outgrow the condition, so there's no knowing how relevant the acupressure was in my prognosis, but because of this experience, I've never been as skeptical about non-Western treatments as some are. I wish you the best with the acupuncture!

Lori said...

Wow! I am so glad for you. I can't wait to read more about how it works.

Anonymous said...

I've been seeing an OMD for 25 years in addition to western MDs...acunpuncture and herbs do yield excellent results.
Just be sure to check practitioner qualifications / education.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting but I was nervous for you while reading this. Needles and not being able to see or know what was coming would freak me out. I had shock wave therapy for my PF many years ago. Insurance covered it but I dont think they do now. It was a miracle that it worked. I tried everything too. That summer I walked all over disney without a problem. I hope this treatment works for you.

Anonymous said...

Best of luck to you with your treatment. If you figure out what works for the plantar fascitis. I hope you will post it here, as I have a severe case of it and nothing so far is helping.

Karen McKenna-Ball said...

Thanks for info...very timely as I too will be receiving my first acupuncture treatment tomorrow. After 1 year of seeing 3 doctors and exhausting every possible treatment for pf surgery is my only option to feel better. Here's hoping I have success with acupuncture. Good luck to you!