Published on

Treat the cause, not the symptom


In the early 2000s I had a pain in my achilles tendon that lasted over two years.

I consulted several physicians. They prescribed anti-inflammatory gels to apply directly to my heel area where I had the pain.

I also got a series of consultations from a physical therapist. He showed me some stretches and exercises, did a tiny bit of massages, but most of the treatment time he let me lay under a warm wrapper or IR-light (while he was attending to other patients).

I got custom made insoles in my shoes.

As a runner and aspiring athlete it was frustrating that nothing made my condition better. Walking was fine. But after a run I would feel the pain. I took extended breaks from running, lasting several months, with the hope of healing. Only to be disappointed when resuming a run.

One day, after more than two years, I got a suggestion from a colleague to try acupuncture. I was desperate, so I went for the alternative therapy.

At the first consultation, the acupuncturist told me that I had a spasm in the calf-muscle. A spasm is a state where a muscle is permanently contracted. A spasm can be caused by a trauma.

For me the onset of the achilles pain came after I had a minor bike accident where my lower leg got an impact. And to make matters worse, since my bike was damaged in the accident, I ran back home wearing cycling shoes with no cushioning. No wonder my calf muscle got traumatized.

The acupuncturist treated me with electric pulses through several needles.

The spasm in my calf muscle loosened up gradually. Now the achilles tendon was not in permanent tension anymore, and could heal. After 6 treatments, the pain in my achilles was gone. Finally!!!

My previous doctors and physical therapist attempted to treat the symptom. But that didn’t work as long as the underlying cause, the spasm, was still there. The acupuncturist found the cause and treated it.


Do not read this as a general advice to prefer alternative treatments. Remember that “alternative treatment” literally means that the treatment has not been able to reproduce the results in a double blind trial. That means we are unable to take 100 patients, give the alternative treatment to 50 of them, and see a significant difference from the other group of 50 patients.

If an alternative treatment could be proved to work with statistical significance, it would no longer be “alternative”, it would be “medicine”.

Alternative treatment is a broad category. This field attracts a lot of charlatans and opportunists. Therefore be skeptical and use common sense.