It is very important for the body to stay active for our overall health and wellness. Incredibly, this relies on the proper functioning of many of our body parts, including our heels. However, a progressive condition called plantar fasciitis can impact its functions. This can cause heel pain, poor arch support, increased risk of failing, and inflammation of the tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot. If untreated, this can lead to issues with movement, disability, and chronic pain.
From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, plantar fasciitis relates to kidney qi (vital life force) deficiency and liver and kidney impairment. The primary aim of treatment for the condition is to invigorate blood and qi and regulate the liver and kidney.
We share some plantar fasciitis causes and ways to alleviate heel pain with natural methods.
5 Common Plantar Fasciitis Causes
Signified by a stabbing pain in the foot, plantar fasciitis can cause pain the second you put any pressure on it. The pain can gradually lessen as you move but may return if you stand for long periods or after sitting. Here are some common causes that might be causing this discomfort.
Studies show that 10% of the U.S. population has plantar fasciitis with 83% of these patients being between 25 and 65 years old. However, the majority of sufferers are older, with the typical range being those 45-64 years old.
2. Prolonged standing and exercise
Prolonged standing, excessive walking, and overly vigorous exercises can increase your risk of getting plantar fasciitis. Some examples include certain jobs, running, ballet, aerobic dance, or climbing which place a lot of stress on your heels and tissue. Some doctors might suggest switching your exercises, from running to walking or swimming, for example.
Expert tip: Short breaks are necessary for those who need to stand or walk for long hours. For instance, after standing for two to three hours, rest your body — and heels — for 10-15 minutes. During rest periods, do seated calf raises and light foot stretches to keep the heel moving and your blood flowing.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 40% of American adults are obese. This not only presents a host of health problems but can also trigger pressure on the plantar fascia. If your body mass index (BMI) is above 25, it’s advisable to lose weight to reduce the pressure on your feet as well as to benefit your body.
Expert tip: First, reduce the consumption of inflammatory foods in processed sugars and saturated or trans fats in your diet. It’s better to eat foods rich in anti-inflammatory, such as meal plans on the Mediterranean Diet. This includes a diverse range of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, legumes, grains, fish, and olive oil that can help you lose weight and reduce inflammation. Then, include exercise for a balanced plan.
Other dietary changes include consuming less sugar, alcohol, and coffee. In addition, drinking rooibos tea can also supplement the minerals and trace elements that people with obesity lose when dieting.
4. Foot structure
Flat, high-arched feet or short heel tendons are abnormal feet structures. People with flat feet are at a higher risk of putting more weight on the inside of the foot when walking and running. This increases their chances of developing plantar fasciitis.
Expert tip: Avoid carrying heavy items and perform stretching exercises regularly.
- To stretch your calf muscles: Stand with both hands pressed against a vertical wall. Bend your left leg towards the front and straighten your right leg behind. Point your toes forward. Then, lean towards the front and keep your heels off the ground to stretch the right calf muscles for 10 seconds. Switch to the other leg and repeat five times.
- To stretch your foot: Sit on a chair and stretch your legs forward. Use the strength of your heels to tilt your toes upwards. Then, press your foot towards the floor so your toes face down while the heels face up. Repeat this motion 10 to 15 times.
5. Poor-fitting shoes
The shoes we wear can also contribute to this condition. They can tighten the Achilles tendon or the calf muscles, limiting a person’s ability to contract or bend their feet backward. However, if a person does manage to curve the sole of their foot to the back, they are still likely to suffer a pull on the plantar fascia, triggering fasciitis.
Expert tip: Wear comfortable and light shoes to lower your risk of developing plantar fasciitis. Specifically, look for shoes that have soft soles and good shock absorption capacity. Women can also reduce the frequency of wearing high-heeled shoes to avoid this condition.
Plantar Fasciitis Treatment Options
According to TCM, the liver governs the tendons, whereas the kidneys govern the bones. “Old age or weakness in the liver and kidneys can cause bone degeneration and blood and qi deficiencies. It can also lead to a decline in motor function,” says TCM physician Ignatius Ooi Yong Chin from Eu Yan Sang clinic.
Here are several plantar fasciitis treatment options using both TCM and traditional methods.
Acupuncture is a safe and effective way to improve plantar fasciitis through several pathways. The use of needles can release nerve endings that reduce pain. Research shows that acupuncture releases a chemical in the body called adenosine — an anti-inflammatory agent that relieves pain. Additionally, it can stimulate cells, promote blood flow, and promote tissue healing.
This combined with lok mei pa pills — a TCM remedy made from various herbs like goji berry and Cauda Cervi — can greatly alleviate pain. Moreover, this remedy also strengthens the loins and knees.
Upon diagnosis, a doctor may suggest stretching exercises and physical therapy as a part of your treatment. A physical therapist can show you various exercises to relieve muscle tension, stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and strengthen your lower leg muscles. This course of therapy might be short-term or long-term, depending on the severity of your condition.
3. Accupressure massage
Calf massages can greatly help you alleviate pain from your plantar fasciitis. Begin by applying some oil or an herbal plaster to your calf for lubrication. Use both hands to push from your heels through the Cheng San point (BL 57) to the knee and popliteal fossa — a diamond-shaped space behind the knee joint.
This can help alleviate lymphatic reflux in the lower limbs and dredge the urinary bladder meridian
A word of caution: Avoid pushing back and forth too hard on the soles, as it can cause swelling and make the meridian blockage worse.
Your doctor might also suggest the wearing of orthotics to help you with this condition. These custom-fitted arch supports can evenly distribute pressure to your feet, providing relief from daily pain and discomfort. As a general practice, it is also important to replace your shoes before they are worn out and provide no support to the heel.
Compression, scraping, rolling, and patching can relieve discomfort associated with plantar fasciitis. Placing a compress on the affected area can relax the muscles, promote blood circulation, and relieve pain. Scraping involves massaging along the urinary bladder meridian to achieve soft and relaxed muscles.
Rolling requires using a rolling pin or wine bottle to soften fibrous tissue. Finally, patching is the application of medicine on the affected area to remove blood stasis and relieve pain.
6. Night splint
In some cases, your doctor might suggest wearing a night splint. This promotes stretching of the calf and arch by putting the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon in a lengthened position. This is typically not painful and worn while you are sleeping.
Ice can do wonders to temporarily alleviate pain and inflammation. Simply use a clean cotton cloth ad cover it with an ice pack or ice on the affected area. Do this for around 15 minutes, two to three times a day.
Other Treatment Options
Your doctor might suggest surgery as a method to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone. Other options include injections of platelet-rich plasma (PRP), steroid injections, shock waves therapy, and ultrasound imaging. As with any condition, these methods are assessed on a case-by-case basis.
A common problem, plantar fasciitis is very manageable with lifestyle changes, TCM practices, and guidance from your doctor. Finally, if you experience sharp, debilitating pain, see your doctor immediately.
- Mayo Clinic. 2021. Plantar fasciitis. [Accessed on December 20, 2021]
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. 2018. Analysis of Data on the Prevalence and Pharmacologic Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis Pain. [Accessed on December 17, 2021]
- Stat Pearls. 2018. Plantar Fasciitis. [Accessed on December 17, 2021]
- American Family Physician. 2021. Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis. [Accessed on December 17, 2021]
- John Hopkins Medicine. 2021. Plantar Fasciitis. [Accessed on December 17, 2021]