During her time in the Air Force, Dr. Meredith Warner, an orthopedic surgeon, became frustrated with the gap in treatment for those suffering from plantar fasciitis, something she says is very common in the military.
According to Warner, total immobilization isn’t practical, injections and pain pills aren’t long-term solutions and she isn’t a fan of resorting to surgery for it. Physical therapy is her go-to modality, but it can prove cost prohibitive as soldiers transfer to civilian life. What she really wanted was a way for people to recover before becoming injured.
Now she’s putting her experience and expertise together in footwear products in an entrepreneurial venture called The Healing Sole.
“Plantar fasciitis pretty much affects everyone once you’re no longer a child,” says the 43-year old recreational runner who founded Warner Orthopedics and Wellness in Baton Rouge, La., in 2013. “The guys in infantry are carrying at least 80 pounds of battle rattle, like a flak vest, helmet, goggles and more, while they’re rucking, and they are doing so in footwear that isn’t necessarily awesome.”
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Warner saw soldiers being sent home because the severe pain from plantar fasciitis kept them from being able to do their job. And she saw others who wanted to do nothing but wear flip flops when whey weren’t wearing military boots, something their doctors advised them not to do. Towards the end of her deployment, she decided the best way to address the care gap was by turning one of the problems, flip flops, into the solution.
After retiring from the military, Warner earned her MBA from Louisiana State University, which is where she met Natalie Noel, who is now her business partner in The Healing Sole. So far, the company has been self-funded with Warner and Noel working more than six years from concept to delivery. They even did their own proof of concept study.
“Scientifically and in my head, I assumed the concept would work because it’s based on scientific principles and a lot of theories I use every day in treatment,” says Warner, who sees The Healing Sole as a way to impact more people and empower others to take care of pain, problems and recovery on their own. “You don’t really know until you know. The clinical trial proved to myself and the world that the design worked.”
Warner, a self-described “army brat” grew up playing soccer, averaging 8 miles of running per game. She also played for two years at the University of Delaware. Running became more of a focus once she was in the military.
“I was stationed at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and they had a fence called ‘the perimeter.’ If you ran the whole thing it was 15 or 16 miles,” she says. “There was nothing to do except operate and workout, so we would run that a lot.”
Warner has since run a couple half marathons and is training for her first marathon, the Louisiana Marathon in Baton Rouge in January. She credits weight lifting and now yoga for keeping her injury-free.
The combination of her athleticism and medical training led to the unique design features in The Healing Sole Flip Flops ($124), which are directed at runners as the primary group of potential customers. A rockered bottom eliminates a lot of the need for muscle contraction and joint movement, allowing the foot to rest. Firm foam and a metatarsal bar provide structure, there’s a compression zone at the insertion point of the plantar fascia for a more normal heel strike and the ramp under the big toe keeps toes from “clawing” as they do in most flip flops.
Like most working moms, Warner, who has a daughter with another on the way, says it’s a “time crunch” between family, training, surgery and clinic hours. The transition from military to civilian life was a challenge as well.
“During my four years of active duty, if you wanted to go on a lunch run or leave early to workout, no one blinked because it’s part of the job,” Warner says. “But when you get in the private world, it’s totally different. It’s much harder to stay fit in a culture that doesn’t value it.”
Warner’s training incorporates quality over quantity, with at least one yoga session per week, weights and plenty of recovery time between hard run efforts.
“It’s important to me to stay strong, and not to ‘just’ run,” says Warner who promotes the same for her patients. “You can’t do just one thing because then you build up one group of muscles, and ultimately, that’s not the way the human body is designed.”
Strength, flexibility and recovery are so important to Warner that she’s in the process of building a new clinic including workout facilities and a yoga studio.
Warner, who jokes that work takes up about 90 percent of her time, says tackling Spain’s San Sebastian Trail is at the top of her “one day” bucket list. Until then, she’ll keep helping patients heal themselves, one pair of flip flops at a time.