It may be hard to believe, but our feet contain 25% of the bones in our entire body. Wrapped in tendons, ligaments, and thin layers of muscle, our feet literally help move us through our daily lives. Foot pain, though, can stop us in our tracks. More than just aching or tired feet, there are foot pain conditions that can become chronic if not treated. Maybe you tried a foot brace or perhaps you are looking to avoid more invasive injections or surgeries. Acupuncture for foot pain can help relieve inflammation to help get your back on your feet. Here’s what you should know.

How does acupuncture for foot pain work? 

Acupuncture is an over 3,000-year-old, experience-based medical treatment that works with the energy in your body. This energy, called qi (pronounced “chee”) moves through the body on energy lines called meridians. Each of these meridians traces a path around the body and is connected to a particular organ in the body.

So, what does this have to do with feet?

Acupuncturists believe that pain and disease in the body is the result of a blockage of energy along the meridians. This energy may be blocked by trauma (i.e., a car accident or other injury) and cause pain or illness anywhere along the meridians.

To free this blockage, hair-thin needles (pins) are placed along specific points in the body. In some cases, the area around the pin will turn bright red (even though the pin does not hurt when its inserted). This is seen as a positive reaction to the placement.

Traditional Western medicine is just beginning to delve into acupuncture’s effectiveness. Research has shown that these pins actually activate the central nervous system. This activation prompts the brain to release chemicals that reduce pain and promote healing.

Acupuncture for pain management is gathering a growing body of research that supports its effectiveness. This type of treatment has been well-regarded as an accompaniment to conventional treatment as well as a first-line approach to some widespread chronic pain conditions.

There are other types of treatments that focus on releasing blockages in the meridians. Moxibustion and acupressure are two treatments that work along the same lines but do not puncture the skin.

Foot acupuncture benefits

In addition to stimulating the central nervous system to kickstart healing, acupuncture for pain management offers other benefits.

Foot acupuncture benefits include:

  • Deep relaxation: Receiving acupuncture is very soothing and meditative
  • Few (if any) side effects: Acupuncture is safe and side-effect free for the vast majority of patients
  • Can improve energy levels: Some specific points in the feet offer energy-boosting benefits

Overall, the potential benefits of acupuncture for foot pain make it an excellent treatment option. Let’s look at its effects on some common foot pain conditions.

Is acupuncture effective for plantar fasciitis? 

Plantar fasciitis is an incredibly painful and challenging condition to treat. Your plantar fascia is a tendon that connects the heel of the foot with the ball. This tendon runs the length of the foot, spanning the inner and outer arches. When this tendon becomes inflamed due to injury, overuse, or misuse, every step you take can be painful. Even with braces and time, plantar fasciitis can be so painful as to make the simplest of tasks impossible.

Acupuncture for plantar fasciitis focuses on reducing pain so that other treatments can be effectively applied. One review of literature that studied acupuncture for plantar fasciitis found that it significantly relieved pain after four and eight weeks of treatment. Another study in 2019 found that acupuncture was as effective as corticosteroids and carried with it none of the side effects.

Other research indicates that:

  • The yuan-lo point pair seems to help specifically with pain and stiffness
  • A multimodal approach to treating plantar fasciitis that includes acupuncture is more effective than a single-treatment mindset

Can acupuncture help with neuropathy in the feet? 

One of the hardest types of pain to treat is neuropathic pain. Peripheral neuropathy is pain on the “periphery” of the body, in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. This nerve pain can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

While there are pharmaceutical treatment options, the risk of side effects (e.g., temporary paralysis in the extremities) can mean that acupuncture might be a good first treatment approach.

In a study of the effectiveness of acupuncture for nerve pain, researchers looked at chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy. Nerve conduction studies were completed before treatment. This measured the electrical conductivity of nerves to see how extensive the damage was and where it might be located. After ten, 20-minute sessions over a three-month period, nerve conduction studies were completed again.

The findings? Over 83% of patients had improved speed and intensity of nerve signaling. Acupuncture increases blood flow in the body, which may speed nerve healing. Six years later, another study found the same results: patients with peripheral neuropathy showed vast improvements in pain levels and function after a series of acupuncture treatments.

Does acupuncture help metatarsalgia? 

It might be hard to believe that an upright and comfortable gait rests on just one joint, but it’s true. Metatarsalgia is the name for irritation in the joint at the base of your big toe (where the metatarsal bone meets the phalanx). This irritation can occur for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Injury or trauma
  • Habitual wearing of ill-fitting shoes
  • Mechanical issues in the foot, ankle, or lower leg

The small bones embedded in the fat tissues under the big toe (the sesamoids) can also cause irritation. When this irritation continues, the joint can become inflamed, and you might experience pain not only in the joint but also across the ball of your foot.

Acupuncture for ball of foot pain is tailor-made for relief. In one study, 93% of participants had complete pain relief, even at a year’s follow-up appointment.

Left untreated, this condition can become worse, with the big toe drifting to the next toe and dislocating itself and its neighbor. Acupuncture for pain management of metatarsalgia can help decrease swelling and improve function in the foot, all without invasive surgeries or injections.

What can I expect during my foot acupuncture appointment?

Since acupuncture looks at overall health and wellness, even as it treats specific conditions, your first acupuncture treatment will be your longest. Plan about 90 minutes to allow plenty of time to discuss your medical history, including the condition for which you are seeking treatment. Your acupuncturist will ask you about your sleep, your diet, and your preferences in food, temperatures, and seasons.

Although you may need to roll up a pant leg or slightly lift your shirt, most acupuncture points can be reached without changing into a surgical gown. Wear loose clothing to make accessing various acupuncture points easier.

You will lie down on a treatment table (some treatments may be provided sitting up), and your acupuncture will take your pulses. They are looking for the pulses of your meridians, but they hold nearly the same area on your wrist as your doctor will hold checking for your blood pulses. Most acupuncturists check pulses on both sides, evaluating the strength, quality, and rhythm of three specific pulses.

Your acupuncturist will also look at your tongue. Traditional Chinese medicine gathers a lot of information based on the color of your tongue, the coating (or lack thereof), and any movement.

At that point, after assessing where your energy blockages might be, your acupuncturist begins to insert the needles. Acupuncture sessions typically use between six and 20 needles in each treatment. The goal is to use as few needles as possible to get the desired treatment outcomes. After 20 minutes or so, your acupuncturist will remove the needles and check your pulses. In some cases, you may get a second series of needles, usually fewer than the first series. If not, you are free to go.

The number of sessions and the time in between them varies. In the beginning, when your pain or injury is acute, you might see your acupuncturist two or three times a week. As the condition improves, you might begin to have less frequent, maintenance-style treatments.

Each patient is individual, and each treatment plan is customized to their needs and treatment goals.

Will it hurt?

One of the first concerns people have when considering acupuncture for foot pain is whether or not it will hurt. The acupuncture pins are literally the thickness of a hair: between .12 mm for thin-skinned areas (e.g., the face and ears) and .50 mm for thicker areas such as the legs and the glutes. Most patients don’t feel anything. At most you might feel a brief pinch or what feels like a slight poke.

Once the needles are in, your acupuncturist will excuse themselves from the room and tell you to rest. This period of rest is usually about 20 minutes long, depending on the treatment. You may find yourself feeling sleepy or relaxed. You may experience a slight heaviness as the time passes. Finally, you may or may not notice a slight tingling feeling near the needles. In Chinese medicine, this is the movement of qi and is nothing to be alarmed about. Some patients even fall asleep!

Are there any side effects?

Acupuncture is an incredibly safe treatment, but any time you puncture the skin there is the chance for side effects. Most are rare and mild. The most common side effect is mild bruising, soreness, or bleeding at the acupuncture site.

Even more rare are serious side effects, but they do occur. These can include the following:

  • Skin rashes
  • Allergic reactions to the metal of the pin
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Infection

You may also experience skin rashes or allergic reactions with moxibustion. Seeking out a highly qualified and skilled practitioner is key here, as is their use of sterilized, single-use acupuncture pins.

If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking blood thinners, talk to your doctor before beginning treatment.

Get help with your foot pain 

Acupuncture for foot pain is recognized as a safe and effective treatment.

If you’re suffering from chronic foot pain, talk to a pain specialist. They can help diagnose the cause of your pain and suggest treatments that could help. Together, you’ll develop a pain management plan that incorporates a variety of methods to help you find relief.

If you are thinking about including acupuncture for foot pain in your treatment plan, find a pain specialist in Arizona or Texas by clicking the button below or look for one in your area by using the tips here:

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