The stinging heel pain and tight tendons caused by plantar fasciitis have few good fixes.
Surgeries and injections for the foot disorder can temporarily ease pain, said Dr. Meredith Warner, 42, a Baton Rouge orthopedic surgeon, but they can lead to long-term complications, and physical therapy often doesn’t last.
Seeing patients struggle with the foot disorder led Warner to spend more than five years inventing a shoe to ease plantar fasciitis pain, which studies say affects about 10 percent of the population.
“There’s never really been a great treatment for it, and it’s so common and it’s such a simple problem if you think about it,” Warner said. “I thought there has to be a better way.”
Her $124 therapeutic shoe, The Healing Sole, is a flip- flop that stretches the plantar fascia tendon, supports the arch and cushions sensitive spots on the foot.
“It makes the step more efficient and takes the stress out of walking for you,” Warner said, showing off a model of the shoe.
Plantar fasciitis begins when the band of ligaments that support the foot’s arch — the plantar fascia — tighten. It can cause intense heel pain.
The disorder affects 7 percent of all people over 65, and runners and people who are overweight suffer from it more often.
Painkilling injections can often lead to a rupture of the tendon, Warner said, and in the most common surgery, doctors clip the tendons to relieve heel pain, which can cause the foot’s arch to collapse.
“If you can avoid surgery, you should,” Warner said.
One of the first plantar fasciitis patients to wear The Healing Sole, Dr. Ann Lafranca, tried it in October as soon as Warner received the shoes from the manufacturer.
“I keep my pair right by my bed, and as soon as I get up in the morning, my feet slip into them,” said Lafranca, a Baton Rouge obstetrician-gynecologist.
Lafranca has lived with plantar fasciitis for more than 20 years, developing it during pregnancy.
“It’s worse in the morning. As soon as you get up and put your feet on the floor, for me it always felt like I was walking on sharp rocks or razor blades,” she said.
Physical therapy has helped, but Lafranca has also bought expensive inserts for her shoes to ease the pain from the plantar fasciitis and an additional injury to her forefoot. Staying off her feet isn’t an option.
Before and after work, Lafranca wears The Healing Sole shoes to keep her feet in shape.
“The flip flop isn’t closed-toe,” she said, “but if it were, these would be coming to work with me.”
The idea for Healing Sole grew in Warner’s mind after the Delaware native worked on her surgical residency at Tulane University School of Medicine.
During her stint in the Air Force afterward, she began thinking about a shoe that could combine therapeutic features used in shoe inserts and physical therapy. When she finished her tour of duty, she moved to Louisiana.
She also enrolled in LSU’s master of business administration program to learn the business world and committed to design and market her shoe.
“I started thinking about the problem of plantar fasciitis and how it affects my patients and how terrible most of the treatments are,” she said.
In 2010, while finishing business school, Warner focused on creating a prototype of the shoe that became The Healing Sole and formed a company with Natalie Noel, a Baton Rouge native she met at LSU.
After sketching out her idea, she hired an engineer to create a computer-drafted design and then found a manufacturer to produce it.
Nine prototypes later, in October 2015, she had a product ready to sell.
She focused on creating a flip flop because most patients battling foot problems cannot wear sandals.
“That’s all anyone wants to wear, especially in the South,” she said.
The shoes, available only in black, come in half sizes because the fit needs to be precise, Warner said. For now, The Healing Sole can be found at a few Louisiana locations, including Fleet Feet Sports in Baton Rouge and Geaux Run in Lafayette, but they also also sold online at TheHealingSole.com.