Latest posts are at the bottom of this page.
Use the filter buttons above to help find answers - click on the boxes

Ask an expert - muscles and bones - feet

33 questions

You will not be surprised to hear that we have been asked this question before, although not for some time. Our last answer over a year ago said:

We have to be honest and say that there is not a great deal of evidence for the effective treatment of Morton's neuroma with acupuncture. We published an answer through this same section three years ago to a question from a patient who was convinced, and with some justification, that treatment with one of our colleagues has been wholly responsible for a complete improvement in his condition. 

We have to say, though, that our clinical experience runs counter to this, which is why the very upbeat tone of webpages like that of this American practitioner

http://acuroots.com/mortons-neuroma-treatment-plan-with-acupuncture-and-tui-na/

(informative as it is) raises a wry smile. If only...

Having said that, what he describes in the formation of the tissues which cause the condition is something with which we deal elsewhere on the body, and in theory there is no reason why treatment should not be able to reduce some of the discomfort. However, we would be very surprised if this could be done without the aid of orthotics which reduce some of the pressure on the affected areas while any treatment beds in.

Each case is unique and different, however, and the only real solution is to seek face to face advice from a BAcC member who can look at exactly how the problem manifests in you, and more importantly, can see the overall context in which it is occurring. One of the great strengths of Chinese medicine is that it looks at the whole system, not simply at a symptom which is regarded as merely a warning sign. Thousands of people with identical foot structures to you will walk thousands of miles without gettinneuromas, and there may be systemic problems which have predisposed this to happen.

The other recommendation we would make, and we are sure that you have done this already, is to find a good chiropodist or podiatrist who can work alongside any other treatments you try to help to maintain improvements. Working in partnership with other health professionals for problems like yours can often be extremely powerful

This still represents the best that we can say. We have looked at the research databases to see whether any further case studies have appeared, but the cupboard is remarkably bare.  There is an interesting case study about the use of therapeutic massage

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3390214/

which is useful for the background information, but nothing new involving acupuncture treatment.

Our earlier advice, to visit a local BAcC member for an informal assessment of what may be possible, is still likely to be your best option. We are confident that you will get an honest opinion before committing to treatment.

You will not be surprised to hear that we have been asked this question before, although not for some time. Our last answer over a year ago said:

We have to be honest and say that there is not a great deal of evidence for the effective treatment of Morton's neuroma with acupuncture. We published an answer through this same section three years ago to a question from a patient who was convinced, and with some justification, that treatment with one of our colleagues has been wholly responsible for a complete improvement in his condition. 

We have to say, though, that our clinical experience runs counter to this, which is why the very upbeat tone of webpages like that of this American practitioner

http://acuroots.com/mortons-neuroma-treatment-plan-with-acupuncture-and-tui-na/

(informative as it is) raises a wry smile. If only... Having said that, what he describes in the formation of the tissues which cause the condition is something with which we deal elsewhere on the body, and in theory there is no reason why treatment should not be able to reduce some of the discomfort. However, we would be very surprised if this could be done without the aid of orthotics which reduce some of the pressure on the affected areas while any treatment beds in.

Each case is unique and different, however, and the only real solution is to seek face to face advice from a BAcC member who can look at exactly how the problem manifests in you, and more importantly, can see the overall context in which it is occurring. One of the great strengths of Chinese medicine is that it looks at the whole system, not simply at a symptom which is regarded as merely a warning sign. Thousands of people with identical foot structures to you will walk thousands of miles without getting neuromas, and there may be systemic problems which have predisposed this to happen.

The other recommendation we would make, and we are sure that you have done this already, is to find a good chiropodist or podiatrist who can work alongside any other treatments you try to help to maintain improvements. Working in partnership with other health professionals for problems like yours can often be extremely powerful

This still represents the best that we can say. We have looked at the research databases to see whether any further case studies have appeared, but the cupboard is remarkably bare. Our earlier advice, to visit a local BAcC member for an informal assessment of what may be possible, is still likely to be your best option. We are confident that you will get an honest opinion before committing to treatment.

 

 

 

Q:  My toes draw and go crooked and the pain is awful.  It's every day, all day and I wondered  if acupuncture would help?

A: We think that the first thing you should do, if you haven't already done it, is to speak to your doctor about this. There are one or two simple causes of foot cramps like dehydration and mineral deficiencies which may need to be checked (most patients are aware that they don't drink enough water but few realise how little they actually take in), and one or two slightly more serious neurological disorders which can generate these symptoms. We think it is highly unlikely that this is the case, but it would be our duty of care as practitioners if you came along with these symptoms to make sure that you had been thoroughly checked in conventional medicine first.

 As far as acupuncture treatment is concerned there are both local and systemic reasons why this might be happening. Tight cramping pains are often caused by blockage or stagnation of energy, or 'qi' as the Chinese called it, and this can be either a local or systemic problem. If it is a local problem it can sometimes be traced back to a particular event or series of events, especially since i Chinese medicine terms once the body has been 'invaded' by cold it sometimes needs to be removed rather than just being left to dissipate.

 The other possibilities are what we would call systemic, involving the under-performance of parts of the system which supply energy to the extremities. If this is the  case they are very likely to be generating other symptoms in the body that someone may not even recognise as symptoms, like bloating after eating or becoming slightly less good at concentrating. A skilled practitioner looks at the way the system is performing for even the smallest of problems in the extremities because the small symptom can be the tip of a much larger iceberg.

 The best advice we can give, and which we invariably do, is to visit a BAcC member local to you and seek a brief face to face assessment. Most members are happy to give up a little time without charge, and this gives you a chance to meet them and see where they work before committing to treatment. Seeing the wider context within which you have this problem is invaluable in giving an informed view of whether acupuncture can or may help. 

Q  I have no upward movement in my big toe joint following an operation to remove a lump in the base of my foot. Can acupuncture help with muscles and nerves? 

A: A great deal depends on the extent of the damage caused by the operation.

 We do not intend any criticism of your surgeon or podiatrist, but any operations to remove lumps or growths carry a small but real risk of interfering with both the nerves which supply the foot 'downstream' and also the muscles which sometimes have to be cut slightly, or may even have become fused to the lump and become collateral damage when the lump was taken out. It would only be fair to say that if the damage is permanent then acupuncture treatment will not make a difference.

 However, traditional Chinese acupuncture operates on an entirely different theoretical basis from western or conventional medicine. The basic premise is that the body, mind and emotions are all one interconnected flow of energy, which the Chinese call 'qi' and which does not translate well into English. Health, vitality and proper function all depend on a good flow, rhythm and balance of energy. When someone has an operation involving cutting through tissue there is always likely to be some break in the flow. In severe cases, especially when someone has a great deal of keloid scar tissue, the blockage this creates can cause significant trouble. In more confined areas it can result in symptoms such as you describe, loss of sensation or loss of movement.

 

Of course, if everything in life were that simple it would be an easy thing to fix; just pop into an acupuncturist's clinic, have a few needles and all should be well. In reality, some cases respond well and others don't respond at all. There are all sorts of factors which influence this, not least of which the overall balance of energies in the person in whom the problem occurs. This will mean that some people will heal faster anyway, and others will struggles. A skilled practitioner would take this into account when making an assessment.

 In any event, where the outcome is rather uncertain it is vital to set a limit to the number of treatments which someone has before drawing a conclusion about whether it is working. Having a measurable outcome makes life much easier because progress will be visible, not just based on how someone feels on the day. We tend to suggest that four or five sessions at most are a good chance to tell whether treatment will work. If there has been no change at this point it may be good to look at other options.

 The best advice, which we invariably give, is that someone visits a local BAcC member for an informal assessment of what may be possible. Actually seeing a problem is a far better basis for offering advice, and most members are happy to spare a short time without charge to see if it is something they think they could help with.

A:  We tend to stay away from words like 'cure' but there is no doubt that acupuncture treatment may be worth trying and will certainly not do any harm.

 As you may have read from our website the theories of acupuncture are based on a flow of energy, called 'qi', in the body, mind and emotions. How well this energy flows, its balance and rhythms, can have a profound effect on the effective functioning and health of the body. Where there is excess, or deficiency, or blockage, the resulting change in the flow will generate symptoms like pain or stiffness.

 Clearly a broken ankle may well have had a considerable impact on the channels of energy which flow through the region. Not only will the break itself have disrupted the flow but the attendant swelling and immobility of the joint will have probably added layers of further restriction to the flow. Reinstating this by using acupuncture and the other modalities we often use may well have a beneficial impact on the restoration of better function.

 There is always the caveat, of course, that if the bone has not set as it should, or if there has been some arthritic change because of the break, then there may be more challenges to get things to work better again. This might require a level of pain reduction, which is a well researched aspect of all forms of acupuncture, but this can often be a continuing treatment based on how much relief someone gets from the pain and how sustainable the changes are.

 The important thing to do, however, is to try to set measurable outcomes for improvement, things which will demonstrate without a doubt that there has been a positive change. We are always wary of getting into a 'treatment habit' where dealing with a long standing problem can often mean that a patient can clock up a dozen treatments without realising how much of an investment they are making. It is vital to review progress on a regular basis, and to make this work you really need to have something tangible to make that assessment - less painkillers, more freedom or range of movement, and so on.

 With all problems like this, though, where the heading 'broken ankle' could mean anything from a slight crack to a massive fracture, the unique nature of each instance means that it is best to seek the advice of a local BAcC member face to face. Someone who can actually look at what is going on and also see what is happening in the system as a whole which may be impeding your healing process is going to be able to give you a far better idea of what may be possible than we can at this remove. Most members are happy to give up a small amount of time to prospective patients without charge, and this also has the advantage that you can meet them and see where they work before committing to treatment.

 

Page 1 of 7

Post a question

If you have any questions about acupuncture, browse our archive or ask an expert.

Ask an expert

BAcC Factsheets

Research based factsheets have been prepared for over 60 conditions especially for this website

Browse the facts