Chronic heel pain is increasing at an alarming rate in our country.  On average, we spend between 8-10 hours on our feet a day.  This puts an incredible amount of stress on our bones, joints and feet and can contribute to the cause of several injuries.  Chronic heel pain is one of the more severe injuries caused by too much time on our feet and can become quite debilitating.  It is also very difficult to treat.  There are few treatment options available and many only treat the painful symptoms, not the underlying cause. 

            Usually heel pain begins with the symptoms of achilles tendonitis.  The achilles tendon runs down the back of the leg, from the calf muscle to the heel bone.   It gets sore from overuse, either from long days at work standing in improper shoes, or from hiking, running, skiing, or any sports activity that puts stress on our feet.  Symptoms of overuse can include a sore and tight calf muscle, sensitivity in the tendon itself, or stiffness in the morning when you first put your feet on the floor to get out of bed.  Many times these pain signals will come and go over a series of a few months until the injury becomes more serious. 

            Occasionally, heel pain will develop without the symptoms of achilles tendonitis being noticed.  One will feel pain on the heel and the plantar fascia, again usually first thing in the morning when the foot is stiff.  The plantar fascia runs on the sole of the foot and will become sore when overused.  Often, people will complain of sensitivity on the heel itself and of a “burning” pain on the bottom of the foot.  This signifies that the plantar fascia is inflamed and injured and needs rest and treatment to begin the healing process.  Unfortunately, this is not an injury that will heal itself.  Every time we walk and put stress on the achilles tendon, heel and plantar fascia, we are running the risk of developing the injury further.  Fortunately, this injury can be resolved with alternative medicine.

            Acupuncture is an effective and safe method of treating chronic heel pain and Achilles tendonitis.  I have treated many cases of this injury and have had excellent results.  It is always best to treat an injury when it is just developing and will save you a lot of time and money to approach it that way.  In the early stages, this injury can be resolved in as little as 4-6 acupuncture treatments.  However, if you have had pain for 2 years or more, there is still an opportunity to heal the achilles and heel.  It may take several weeks or months of treatment, but there is a good chance of full recovery.  It is important with this injury to also address the underlying cause of the painful symptoms.

            Most cases of achilles tendonitis and chronic heel pain develop because of some problem with biomechanics of the foot.  Our feet take so much abuse daily from just holding up our body weight, not to mention dealing with bad shoes and rocky trails we hike on.  Over time, our arches tend to fall and our feet will either roll to the inside or to the outside when we take a step.  This puts extra stress on the heel and achilles first, and then also on the knees, hip, lower back and whole body.  Sometimes poor biomechanics can be corrected simply by wearing stiffer, more supportive shoes.  If, however, pain in the heel or foot has occurred, it is probably time to start thinking about getting a custom orthotic.  Orthotics will correct your foot plant by adding support where you need it.  I have found that in most cases of achilles tendonitis, it is essential to correct the biomechanics of the foot to prevent the injury from recurring.

            The last component of the treatment plan for sore achilles and feet includes supplements and liniments.  Often times, people who tend to develop tendonitis issues have a lack of essential fats in their diet.  It is especially difficult to include enough omega 3 and omega 6 fats in our diet here at 10,000 feet where fresh fish is often unavailable.  I recommend a fish oil, borage seed oil or combination supplement for most of my clients.  In Chinese Medicine, the fats in our diets nourish the tendons and the sinews in our body.  With a lack of good fat in our diet, we can suffer from tight and painful tendon injuries.

            Chinese herbal liniments can be especially helpful in healing muscle and tendon injuries.  These topical treatments contain herbs that help increase the healing of painful tendonitis by decreasing inflammation at the local area.  They can also be used before activity to increase circulation to the injured area of the body. 

            Acupuncture is a reliable and effective treatment for achilles pain, heel pain or plantar fasciitis.  The length of treatment depends mostly on how long this injury has been progressing in the body.  If at all possible, treat it early and eliminate those annoying symptoms before they progress into a long-term problem.  In most cases, it is possible to prevent the need for surgery or casting the foot.  Don’t let that pain prevent you from enjoying your summer activities, take care of it today and get back out there enjoying the Colorado mountains.