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What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine. Fine needles are inserted at certain sites in the body for therapeutic or preventative purposes. Acupuncture is often seen as a form of alternative or complementary medicine.
How Does it work?
In truth, nobody really knows. There are many different theories to explain how acunpuncture works but no convincing proof for one theory over another. Acupuncture can be described as Western or Traditional.
Western medical acupuncture is the use of acupuncture following a medical diagnosis. It involves stimulating sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles of the body. This results in the body producing natural substances, such as pain-relieving endorphins. It is believed that these naturally released substances are responsible for the beneficial effects experienced with acupuncture.
Traditional acupuncture is based on the belief that an energy, or "life force", flows through the body in channels called meridians. This life force is known as Qi (pronounced "chee"). Practitioners who adhere to traditional beliefs about acupuncture believe that when Qi doesn't flow freely through the body, this can cause illness. They also believe acupuncture can restore the flow of Qi, and so restore health.
Does it Work?
When acupuncture is used to treat plantar heel pain, there is a huge variation in acupuncture techniques including the specific location of needles, quantity of needles per muscle, number of muscles needled etc. After reviewing previous clinical studies, this wide variation makes it incredibly difficult to determine whether acunpuncture is effective or not for treating plantar heel pain as some studies have demonstrated positive results, whilst others have not and this may be down to the technique applied. At present there is no dominant technique that appears to be used by most health profressionals and as such the results ar extremely variable.
When conducted by a qualified practitioner acupuncture is safe. Mild, short-lasting side effects occur in around 7-11% of patients. These include:
Pain where the needles puncture the skin
bleeding or bruising where the needles puncture the skin
worsening of pre-existing symptoms
Serious complications from treatment, such as infections or damage to tissue, are extremely rare. They usually occur only as a result of bad practice, carried out by an acupuncturist who has not been properly trained.
For now, I am not convinced acupuncture is a very effective treatment option for plantar heel pain, whether the source of the heel pain is plantar fasciitis or nerve entrapment or any other condition. it appears acunpuncture requires many treatment sessions in order to achieve effective pain relief which can be an inconvenience for patients. Considering the wide range of treatment options available for plantar heel pain, I would rank acupuncture fairly low down the priority list of preferred treatment. Additionally, it should not be relied on as a long-term resolution for plantar fasciitis as it does not address the underlying cause of plantar fasciitis.