By Sara Calabro
Barefoot running is all the rage. Although barefoot running dates back to the earliest of times, its modern popularity is attributed to the 2009 publication of Born to Run. The book focuses on a Mexican tribe that runs for miles, through treacherous terrain, in just thin sandals.
In the process of chronicling the tribe’s adventures, author Christopher McDougall discovers that barefoot running cures his chronic plantar fasciitis. But or runners who are still partial to shoes—or those who have tried barefoot running to no avail—acupuncture can be very effective for wiping out what McDougall calls “the vampire bite of running injuries.”
Plantar fasciitis from an acupuncture perspective
Acupuncturists view plantar fasciitis in context of the patient’s overall presentation.
Is the injury chronic or acute? Is the foot hot or cold to the touch? What about the abdomen? (Yes, the abdomen.) Has the patient been getting a lot of headaches lately? Has she been getting her period regularly? How is her digestion? Is she sleeping well?
Answers to these questions and others can contribute to plantar fasciitis.
Once an acupuncturist has determined a constitutional treatment (to support some of those seemingly extraneous things like headaches and digestion), he might check for trigger points in the soleus muscle.
The most common trigger point (TrP) in this muscle, labeled TrP1 in the picture, refers pain to the back and bottom of the heel and also to the Achilles tendon. (The soleus also is a common culprit in cases of Achilles tendinitis.) As the picture shows, there also may be spillover pain around the actual trigger point and the instep of the foot.
Releasing trigger points with acupuncture can cause a muscle-twitch sensation followed by pain relief or decrease in muscle tension in the calf area. It’s normal for the muscle to feel sore after treatment, usually for no more than 24-48 hours.
In addition to the signature heel pain of plantar fasciitis, trigger points in the soleus also can cause pain higher up on the leg. In this case, an acupuncturist might suspect TrP2.
Finally, TrP3, located up and lateral to the more common TrP1, can refer pain to the sacroiliac joint on the same side (not shown in the picture). Janet Travell, in her seminal work Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual, says that TrP3 in rare cases can also refer pain to the jaw.
Barefoot running may prove helpful for many runners. But for cases of plantar fasciitis that don’t resolve simply by kicking off the shoes, acupuncture looks beyond the feet to uncover the underlying problem.
Photo by Sara Calabro
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