Acupuncture: The Therapeutic Implications for Heel Pain


Patients who suffer from plantar heel pain frequently ask about recent innovations and treatments for this type of pain. Acupuncture and dry needling offer many patients something new. This is a viable option for people who are unable to find relief from other methods. For example, standard treatment methods include stretching protocols for the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle group and trigger point therapy. External devices are also used for heel pain. This includes specialized footwear, night splints, shock wave therapy, NSAIDs, steroid injections and various medications.

Clinicians are often reluctant to speak conclusively about certain types of treatments. However, this does not reflect on the experience of patients with obtaining pain relief from acupuncture. The existing literature on acupuncture and dry needling is not conclusive, and there is not a large dataset available at this time. Even the literature in the field of traditional medicine does not articulate any protocol specifically for heel pain. The therapist is required to use any existing base of knowledge to determine a course of treatment. Skillful therapists can produce a course of treatment with a rational to back it up, and patients who experience relief from pain are usually satisfied with this outcome.

Acupuncture for Pain

Acupuncture is a part of a complete system called Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. Most symptoms can be diagnosed in relation to meridians, which span the entire body and often intersect. The acupuncturist may treat distal points because the meridian points that relate to the symptom are located all over the body. A related procedure is called intramuscular manual therapy, or IMT. This is also called dry needling, and it is widely used in Europe and more recently in the United States. Current research on IMT suggests that this procedure is indicated for myofascial pain and musculoskeletal disorders, but there are also possible side effects that may occur at the site of the injection.

Acupuncture treats the pain in a specific part of the body as a symptom of the patient’s overall condition. This approach to medicine is based on a theoretical model that seeks to treat the entire body. While this approach is highly effective in the hands of a skillful acupuncturist, many patients do not understand why they will receive needles in areas far from the painful area. In addition, the depth of the needle penetration is a significant factor in the therapeutic outcome, but patients should be informed about the possibility of adverse reactions.

Current Studies

At this point in time, there is not a lot of clinical research about the optimal depth of needle penetration for specific conditions. There is also little information available concerning the length of time for the needles to remain in place. However, traditional literature on acupuncture does provide some guidance for clinicians.

Additional trials can be expected to assist in the cultural translation of this information into a format that is recognized by modern therapists in a clinical environment. Additional options for the therapist to use include electrical stimulation, needle twirling and manipulation. These options are also part of the existing traditional methods, but they have not been examined under the model of allopathic clinical trials.