An injection of fat in the sole of the foot could help with pain, researchers say

An injection of fat in the sole of the foot could help with pain, researchers say
catinsyrup/Getty Images
  • Plantar fasciitis, or inflammation on the bottom of the foot, can be painful and debilitating.
  • Treating the chronic condition with surgery can risk damage to the foot or painful scarring.

Researchers may have found an unlikely source of relief for a common cause of foot pain by using a patient's own fat.

Injections of fat into the sole of the foot may help treat a painful inflammatory condition called plantar fasciitis, according to a small clinical trial published January 25 in the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

Led by a husband-and-wife team from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, researchers tested the new treatment on 14 patients with chronic plantar fasciitis.

The study showed significant improvements to patients' pain and ability to perform activities in less than a year, Drs. Beth and Jeff Gusenoff, co-authors of the study and professors of plastic surgery, told Insider.

The results suggest fat injections could be a promising treatment for the severe pain of chronic plantar fasciitis, although a larger clinical trial is needed to validate the findings.


"Chronic plantar fasciitis can be so frustrating when people want to walk, play sports, or play with their grandchildren. To have nonstop pain is so debilitating," Beth told Insider. "Around four to six months [in the study], people started to notice they were doing more and felt better."

Running, weight gain, and aging can all cause foot pain

Plantar fasciitis occurs when connective tissues on the bottom of the foot become inflamed. The tissues, known as the plantar fascia, connect the heel bone to the toes. The inflammation can cause a sharp, stabbing pain in the foot, according to the Mayo Clinic.

About 2 million people per year experience plantar fasciitis, and about 10% of those can develop a chronic form of the condition which doesn't improve with treatments like stretching or shoe inserts.

Risk factors for plantar fasciitis include activities that stress the bottom of the foot, such as running, ballet, or having a job that involves being on your feet all day.

"The rubber band on the bottom of your foot gets stretched," Beth said.


Other contributing factors include overweight or obesity, particularly from rapid weight gain, the shape of your foot and walking pattern, and age (it's most common in 40-60 year-olds).

Fat injections can promote healing without painful scar tissue, researchers say

A surgery to treat chronic plantar fasciitis involves cutting the tissue, but the procedure is risky — cutting too much can destabilize the foot or cause painful scarring, Beth said.

The Gusenoffs previously worked with fat injections to treat a different kind of foot pain. They hypothesized it might work for plantar fasciitis, since fat is a rich source of stem cells and growth factors.

"If you cut something, you build a scar, but with fat, it helps to drive a different, regenerative way of healing," Jeff told Insider.

In the procedure, the surgeon uses a blunt needle-like tool to create a small hole in the tissue, injecting fat taken from the patient's belly or other areas.


Patients will then need to avoid being on their feet for long periods of time as they recover, about six to eight weeks.

"It's a slow process, it's not like you inject the fat and it's a miracle all of the sudden you're better," Jeff said.

At around six months and beyond, patients had significant improvements to pain and function, including participation in sports.

The Gusenoffs are now working toward a larger clinical trial to validate the findings of the recent study. The procedure is currently available to patients, but not covered by insurance, something the researchers hope to change in the future to make the treatment more accessible.