Plantar fasciitis is a common problem – about one in ten people have the sharp pain under their heel that’s caused by small tears in the plantar fascia, which is "a really strong, thin piece of fascia, which is almost like gristle, and it supports the foot arch. So it's sort of a tie-rod to the arch," says Dr. Meredith Warner, an orthopedic surgeon in Baton Rouge. She adds, "Over time it degenerates, and when it degenerates it can create pain through the accretion of painful proteins," and though plantar fasciitis usually heals itself within eighteen months, most people seek treatment before then.
The problem is, most treatment options currently available now are unsatisfactory. Dr. Warner says, "For instance, you know, we tell people Wear a boot -- well that's awkward, and it causes knee and hip pain, and it gets in the way of work. We tell people to wear a night splint -- well most people can't sleep in those, and what do you do if you have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night?"
To top it all off, patients suffering from plantar fasciitis are told they can’t wear what shoes they want, such as flip-flops. Dr. Warner says that she's heard many patients complain that their primary care doctor or podiatrist had "prohibited the flip-flop." She adds, "People want to wear their flip flops. It was just an idea I had -- well what if I made that the treatment?"
So Dr. Warner began sketching ideas for the Healing Sole, a flip-flop that helps treat plantar fasciitis by incorporating multiple treatments into one shoe. Since then, she’s been able to order enough prototypes for a clinical trial. She has about forty patients enrolled, and she's had "excellent feedback" so far, but she'll have hard data in a couple of months. If the trial goes well, Warner’s company will start selling its shoes in doctors’ offices. She says that having another option will help patients in the long run.
She says, "I really think that healthcare is going consumer-directed, and I think patients are going to have the choice to decide which treatment to go with. So they're going to want convenient, well-thought-out, well-designed treatments that work and this is hopefully one of those future treatments, as opposed to big bulky boots that have been around for two hundred years and never changed." She hopes ultimately that her shoes will bring innovation to healthcare.