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Cupping for Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis) is one of the most common causes of heel pain. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes and supports the arch of your foot.

This important structure provides the static and dynamic supports for the arch of the foot by transmitting forces between the heel and forefoot during weight-bearing activities. As the terminology of plantar fasciitis implies, plantar fasciitis has traditionally been considered an inflammatory process. However, recent findings suggest plantar fasciitis may be a chronic degeneration causing marked thickening and fibrosis of the plantar fascia along with collagen necrosis, chondroid metaplasia, and calcification.

Most people with plantar fasciitis have pain when they take their first steps after they get out of bed in the morning. It may hurt the most when you climb stairs or after you stand for a long period of time. The pain usually improves after walking for a short period of time but could intensify after prolonged weight-bearing activities, including standing, walking, or running.

Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the ligament that supports your arch. Repeated strain can cause tiny tears in the ligament which can lead to pain and swelling. This is more likely to happen if:

  • Your feet roll inward too much when you walk (excessive pronation).

  • You have high arches or flat feet.

  • You walk, stand, or run for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces.

  • You are overweight.

  • You wear shoes that don't fit well or are worn out.

  • You have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles.

While there are many ways of treating the condition, most studies about cupping and plantar fasciitis specifically are still forthcoming. However, one recent study revealed a correlation between cupping and pain reduction for plantar fasciitis. This study found that cupping, when combined with electrical stimulation therapy (such as TENS therapy), was very effective in significantly reducing plantar fasciitis pain for the majority of participants. Participants reported reduced overall pain, and reduced morning pain as a result of two sessions of cupping per week, for four weeks.

It can be helpful to think of cupping as the opposite of myofascial massage. Instead of applying positive pressure to the fascia in the painful area by massaging the damaged tissue, cupping applies negative pressure to the plantar surface, heels, and calves, allowing more blood to circulate and help promote healing and loosen the muscles and ligaments in these areas.

It’s important to apply the cups only to soft tissue, not bone. It’s also important not to leave the cups on the skin for extended periods to avoid skin damage or broken capillaries. Cupping isn’t recommended as a treatment for individuals with deep vein thrombosis, conditions that cause broken or irritated skin.

It’s also important to remember that cupping is best used in tandem with proven conservative treatments for plantar fasciitis, such as icing, stretching, weight loss, and orthotics made for plantar fasciitis. Experimenting with low-risk, conservative treatment methods while sticking with these basics can be a great way to find new and helpful pain-management techniques, and ultimately, healing.

Will this work for everyone? We can’t say that as not everything works for everyone. It’s trial and error. All we can say is, be open and willing to try a new method. You never know what might happen.