Gold medal favorite, US vaulter McKayla Maroney, broke her right big toe back in May and re-broke it a month later. Just last week she jammed it again in practice aggravating the injury. With the Olympics now in full-swing, Maroney receives acupuncture and electric stimulation (e-stim) to manage her foot pain and swelling.
Each of our feet has 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons. Considering the intricate anatomy of our feet and how we use and/or abuse them, is it any wonder that so many of us suffer from foot pain and injury? In fact, my own recovery from chronic foot pain is one reason why I decided to study acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
In my late 20's I had a recurring case of plantar fasciitis - heel and arch pain caused by inflammation of the thick fibers at the bottom of the foot. I asked a number of MD's and orthopedists about treatment. I was told to ice, stretch, take ibuprofen, and - if the pain got much worse - consider getting a cortisone shot or even surgery. At that point I had been icing, stretching, and Advil-ing intermittently for over a year, and I wished to avoid surgery and/or cortisone injections. So instead, I decided to give acupuncture a shot.
My acupuncturist told me that she hoped to be able to resolve the pain in 6 treatments, if I were to see her twice a week, over 3 weeks. She gently inserted needles into points on the bottom of the affected foot, heel and ankles, attaching a small electrode to one point on the foot. The mild electrical current created a gentle pulsation, and was left to stimulate my foot for about 15 minutes. Chinese medical theory states that all pain is a result of blocked Qi and/or Blood flow. Acupuncture is supposed to remove blockages by moving Qi and Blood, thereby improving circulation and decreasing pain. Manipulation of the needles, either by hand or by electric stimulation, increases the movement of Qi and Blood even more. After my first treatment I noticed a significant reduction in discomfort. After my fourth treatment, the pain disappeared and has never returned.
Once I experienced this dramatic recovery from chronic foot pain, I understood that Chinese medicine and acupuncture could address troublesome conditions where conventional Western treatments may fall short. Still, I believe that using both Chinese and Western techniques is the most advantageous approach.
So it looks like the US Olympic Team is onto something with the care of McKayla's big toe - she credits her ability to compete to icing "like 30 times a day", acupuncture, and e-stim. It's great seeing acupuncture supporting Olympic competition and gaining acceptance in an integrative sports medicine model.
Michelle M. Ching, L.Ac., Dipl. O.M.
Michelle M. Ching is a licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.) and a nationally certified practitioner of Oriental Medicine (Dipl.O.M.). She practices in Los Angeles.