Acupuncture for heel pain Bristol

What causes heel pain?

From the conventional medical perspective, heel pain can be caused by a number of different things, including arthritis, stress fracture, and tendonitis. But the most common cause is plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the band of fascia which stretches between the heel and the toes. This band can become irritated and inflamed due to prolonged standing, especially when there are structural and/or postural problems involved. Stretching exercises, pain killing medication, and ice packs are common treatment approaches, and surgery is sometimes resorted to. It’s important to get a medical examination if your heel pain is severe or chronic, not least to rule out the possibility of a serious underlying problem.

The traditional Chinese approach views pain in any part of the body as a sign of lack of free flow, often described as ‘Qi and Blood stagnation’. The job of an acupuncturist is to assess exactly where this stagnation is located, and to use needles (and sometimes other techniques) to readjust the flow of Qi and Blood in order to relieve pain and restore proper function. Advice may be given about potential underlying causes and how to rectify them.

Treatment for a particular area like the heel doesn’t necessarily involve placing needles where the pain is. There are a number of approaches in acupuncture, and I try to select methods that will be appropriate for the individual situation.

Acupuncture treatment for heel pain doesn’t necessarily involve needling the heel!

Acupuncture treatment for heel pain doesn’t necessarily involve needling the heel!


What is Qi?

This is a huge question, and well beyond the scope of a quick answer. But in terms of acupuncture treatment, it may be helpful to think of it as shorthand for all the physiological influences on the body, including blood flow, nerve impulses, hormones etc. Although we’re still a long way from fully understanding how acupuncture works, it has been shown to influence various bodily functions. A complex combination of effects may be at play during a treatment, often with the net result of pain relief, increased function, and general relaxation.

Is there any evidence that acupuncture can help for heel pain?

The Australian Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine Association commissioned a thorough review of evidence for the effectiveness of acupuncture for a wide variety of conditions. The result was The Acupuncture Evidence Project, published in 2017. They found moderate evidence supporting the effectiveness of acupuncture for plantar heel pain.

More recently, a clinical trial comparing steroid injections with ‘dry needling’ (a form of acupuncture) concluded that ‘Steroid injection can palliate plantar heel pain rapidly but dry needling can provide more satisfactory results for patients with plantar fasciitis in the long term’.

My personal opinion (and of course I have my biases based on my experience and my personal outlook) is that traditional acupuncture, when used well, can offer more for heel pain than the moderate evidence currently suggests. I won’t dive into a rant here about the way acupuncture is currently assessed (please explore some of my blog posts for some opinions on this), but suffice it to say I think the picture is often significantly distorted. I strongly believe that acupuncture is a craft, and results will vary depending on the style used and the experience and skill of the practitioner. It’s also important to find a good ‘fit’ with your practitioner. If you get the sense that my approach might suit you, please get in touch. If not, I’d encourage you to keep looking around for someone you feel chimes with your outlook, and give acupuncture a try for heel pain.

Tom Kennedy uses diet and lifestyle advice, tuina (Chinese massage) and acupuncture in his clinics in Bristol to help people suffering from a number of conditions. See the clinics page to make a booking.