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Fat Injections Provide Long-Term Solution for Foot Pain

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PITTSBURGH – Fat grafting to the foot can provide long-lasting improvements in foot pain and function for patients suffering from pedal fat pad atrophy, or the disintegration of fat in the ball of the foot. Results of a clinical trial led by experts at the University of Pittsburgh Department of Plastic Surgery are available online and published today in the December issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery


Jeff and Beth Gusenoff feature“Forefoot fat pad atrophy is common because the fat pads in the foot are used constantly for shock absorption when walking,” said lead author Jeffrey Gusenoff, M.D., professor of plastic surgery at Pitt. “We typically see this condition in patients with specific foot structures, a history of long-term aggressive activity, and those who have experienced surgery, foot trauma or multiple forefoot steroid injections.”


Gusenoff led a multidisciplinary team that included podiatry and plastic surgery clinicians as they examined 31 patients divided into two groups over a span of two years. The overall purpose of this outcomes study was to “assess whether fat grafting to the forefoot in patients with fat pad atrophy will reduce foot pressure during gait, increase the soft tissue thickness of the foot pad and ultimately reduce pain.” 


All patients participating in the trial received the minimally invasive pedal fat grafting surgery, with the first group undergoing the procedure immediately with two years of follow-up and the second group managing the condition conservatively for one year and then undergoing the procedure with one year of follow-up. 


Study results show that fat grafting is a safe, minimally invasive approach to treat pedal fat pad atrophy and that undergoing the procedure sooner prevents worsening symptoms that would occur as a result of conservative management. Fat grafting currently is the only minimally invasive treatment method that has proven to be effective for this condition. 


“We are happy that we can finally bring relief to people who have been living with pain and a decreased quality of life,” said Gusenoff. “The positive responses we’ve heard from our patients have made all of our research worthwhile.”


Additional authors on the study were Beth Gusenoff, D.P.M., and Danielle Minteer, Ph.D., both of Pitt. This work was funded by 2013 and 2014 Plastic Surgery Foundation Pilot Research Grants, and the treatment is available at UPMC.

PHOTO INFO: (click image for high-res version)

Credit: UPMC/Nate Langer

Drs. Jeffrey and Beth Gusenoff