What do we actually know about a common cause of plantar heel pain? A scoping review of heel fat pad syndrome

Alison H Chang*, Steven Zartov Rasmussen, Asger Emil Jensen, Thomas Sørensen, Michael Skovdal Rathleff

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: The heel fat pad is an important structure of the foot as it functions as a cushion to absorb shock and distribute plantar force during ambulation. Clinical practice guidelines or decision support platforms emphasize that heel fat pad syndrome (HFPS) is a distinct pathology contributing to plantar heel pain. We aimed to identify and synthesize the prevalence, etiology and diagnostic criteria, and conservative management of HFPS.

METHODS: A comprehensive search was conducted in May 2021 and updated in April 2022, using MEDLINE, Scopus, Cinahl, EMBASE, Cochrane Library, SPORTDiscus, and PEDro and ClinicalTrials.gov and the World Health Organization's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ICTRP) for pertinent registrations. We included all study types and designs describing the prevalence; etiology and diagnostic criteria; and non-pharmacological, non-surgical interventions for HFPS.

RESULTS: We found a small body of original research for HFPS (n = 7). Many excluded full-text articles were expert-opinion articles or studies of heel fat pad in participants with plantar fasciitis/fasciopathy or unspecified heel pain. HFPS may be the second leading cause of plantar heel pain, based on two studies. A number of differentiating pain characteristics and behaviors may aid in diagnosing HFPS vs. plantar fasciopathy. Thinning heel fat pad confirmed by ultrasonography may provide imaging corroboration. Randomized controlled trials assessing the efficacy of viscoelastic heel cups or arch taping for managing HFPS do not exist.

CONCLUSIONS: The research literature for HFPS is sparse and sometimes lacking scientific rigor. We have identified a substantial knowledge gap for this condition, frequent inattention to distinguishing HFPS from plantar fasciopathy when describing plantar heel pain, and an absence of robust clinical trials to support the commonly recommended conservative management of HFPS.

Original languageEnglish
Article number60
JournalJournal of Foot and Ankle Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2022

Bibliographical note

© 2022. The Author(s).


  • Diagnostic criteria
  • Heel fat pad
  • Heel pain
  • Intervention
  • Prevalence
  • Systematic review


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