Injecting Fat Into Your Foot Could Treat Severe Heel Pain

PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania — Instead of burning fat, why not transplant it into your foot? That’s the idea behind a recent pilot study looking at an innovative way to treat heel pain.

“We developed this procedure to harness the regenerative properties of fat,” says study author Jeffrey Gusenoff, MD, a professor of plastic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, in a Press release. “In this proof-of-concept study, we showed that fat injections into the foot reduced heel pain, helped patients return to sports and activities, and improved quality of life.”

Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition that is the most common cause of heel pain. About two million people living in the United States suffer from inflammation of the plantar fascia, the connective tissue that runs from the heel to the toes and supports the arch of the foot.

“When you get up from a sitting position or from sleep, it’s a sharp, burning pain that some people describe as being like a nail going through their heel,” describes Beth Gusenof, DPM, clinical assistant professor of plastic surgery. at University. from the Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

While acute plantar fasciitis can be treated with stretches, shoe orthotics, or cortisone injections, 10% of patients develop a chronic form of the disease where collagen in the foot degenerates and the plantar fascia thickens. Patients with the chronic form find that a plantar fasciitis surgical incision can alleviate symptoms. However, podiatrists have expressed concerns about cutting the plantar fascia. Some patients develop scar tissue that can destabilize the foot, leading people to walk with “foot drop.”

So, is belly fat the key to more cushion in the foot?

Researchers have previously shown fat injections to be beneficial in reducing foot pain caused by the loss of fat pads that cushion the ball of the foot and heel. The study authors claim that fat stem cells have regenerative properties, and building on this idea, the team developed a technique to harvest fat from a patient’s belly or body area.

Fourteen patients with chronic plantar fasciitis took part in the study, with the researchers separating them into two groups. The first group received the procedure, using a blunt needle to puncture the plantar fascia and making a small wound to start the body’s healing process. The researchers then removed the needle to inject fat collected at the start of the study. The team tracked their progress for a year.

A second group received the procedure after a six-month observation period, and scientists followed each patient for an additional six months. People in group 1 reported better quality of life, increased ability to exercise, decreased plantar fascia thickness, and less pain after one year.

Group 2 had lower plantar fascia thickness and increased athletic activity six months after the procedure. They also reported a slight improvement in pain levels. The researchers plan to conduct a larger clinical trial to validate these results.

The study is published in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

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