By Rehan Iqbal
Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of adult heel pain. More than 2 million people are treated each year in the U.S. for this condition. Symptoms include a burning sensation, sharp pain or tightness in the heel area. You may feel pain as you take your first steps in the morning or after sitting for a long time.
Standard treatment includes taking medicine for pain, changing activities to reduce stress on the heels, ankles, feet, legs and nerves, icing the area and stretching the muscles, ligaments and tendons in the feet, calves and ankles. Researchers are exploring alternative treatments that relieve pain, speed up healing and prevent recurrence of the condition. Dry cupping is effective in reducing pain in target areas of the body and for painful disorders such as fibromyalgia. Studies show that it may also be effective in treating plantar fasciitis.
What Is Dry Cupping?
The tradition of cupping goes back thousands of years in traditional Chinese, Egyptian and other Middle Eastern medicinal practices. Dry cupping involves placing small cups on the skin to create a vacuum that creates an area of negative pressure. A pump pulls air out of the cup to create the vacuum.
Creating negative pressure lifts the tissue, opens capillaries, draws blood to the area, infuses oxygen into the tissue and relieves tension in the area treated, which promotes healing. The technique stimulates the nervous system, improves blood flow, releases toxins into the bloodstream for elimination, relieves pain and reduces muscle tension.
Dry Cupping for Plantar Fasciitis
To treat plantar fasciitis, therapists apply lotion or oil to the bottom of the foot before placing the cups. After placement, the cups may be slowly moved over the plantar fascia and bottom of the foot. If the pressure inside the cup drops, using the pump again revives the vacuum. Dry cupping can be done at home with a kit or in a practitioner’s office. The cups come in different sizes and are usually made of glass, silicone or plastic.
What are the Side Effects of Dry Cupping?
Treatment rarely produces side effects. After treatment, your skin may show red rings or redness where the cups were placed. This disappears quickly. Rarely, you may notice bruising, which usually resolves within a few days. Some people experience dizziness, sweating or nausea. Cupping should not be done on wounds, varicose veins, nerves, eyes or lymph nodes.
How Long Does Dry Cupping Session Last?
A dry cupping session for plantar fasciitis should take between 10 and 20 minutes. If the cups are used to massage or manipulate the tissue, sessions may last a little longer. Professionals recommend drinking water after cupping to help remove toxins from the body. Therapists discourage showering for several hours after a cupping session because your skin may be sensitive. Professionals also recommend getting extra rest after a session because healing, tissue regeneration and repair take place during sleep.
Plantar Fasciitis Pain
A thick band of connective collagen tissue, called the plantar fascia, runs along the bottom of your foot, supporting the muscles and arch. It attaches to the base of the heel bone, runs under the arch and divides into strands that connect to the bottom of each toe. It flexes and tightens when you stand upright or on the balls of the feet and is important in the mechanics of walking. Over time, repetitive stress or overuse can cause the tissue to lose elasticity. This may result in small tears and irritation in the tissue as resilience declines.
Standard evaluations of this condition describe it as inflammation of the plantar fascia. The suffix "-itis" means inflammation. However, recent research suggests that the condition may reflect a degeneration of the fascia instead of inflammation. For this reason, healthcare practitioners may also use the term plantar fasciosis, or an abnormality of the fascia.
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?
Although the exact cause of plantar fasciitis is not well understood, several factors are associated with it. It is more common among women, runners and those between 40 and 60 years old. Other factors include:
Symptoms and Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis
Common symptoms of plantar fasciitis include stabbing pain in the heel area or along the bottom of your foot or a burning sensation in the heel or foot. You may also experience tightening of the heel, sole of the foot and the tissues ascending into the leg.
Typically, the pain is worse as you take your first steps in the morning after you get out of bed. It can also occur during prolonged periods of standing, after sitting for a long time, after movement that put pressure on the tissue, walking or standing with bare feet or after intense activity.
Standard treatments for the condition are geared toward reducing inflammation and pain and avoiding strain on the tissue. In the past, doctors prescribed a topical application of ice and oral use of anti-inflammatories and steroids to reduce inflammation and pain. Targeted exercises are often recommended to keep the tissue supple and resilient. Other common treatments include:
If the condition does not resolve or significantly improve after approximately 10 months of standard treatment, doctors often recommend surgery.
The randomized, controlled study conducted in 2017 compared the effectiveness of dry cupping to electrical stimulation therapy to relieve pain and promote healing in plantar fasciitis. The study found that both methods had equally positive results. Researchers recommended using dry cupping as a simple, non-invasive method to treat plantar fasciitis.
Based on the results of the 2017 study, reviews of literature and patient histories, medical practitioners suggest that dry cupping is a relatively safe, easy-to-use therapy that relieves pain and stimulates healing for those suffering from plantar fasciitis. Dry cupping can be self-administered at your home or by a licensed practitioner.
Many factors can cause pain in your heel or foot. For proper diagnosis and treatment, health professionals recommend that you see your doctor. Your healthcare specialist may ask you questions about the type and location of pain, your activities and your overall health. In most cases, an examination of your foot is enough to make a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. However, your doctor may ask for X-rays or other imaging tests to rule out other problems.
As with any alternative medicine or therapy, it is best to discuss treatment with your doctor before you try it to make sure it is appropriate for your condition.