Invention Background

Hello, I'm Troy, and I invented TreadStrap in 2020, 16 years after a botched back surgery left me with foot drop. I became so frustrated with my traditional, hinged foot-plate AFO after 14 years that I began searching for new solutions. When I tried other AFOs for two years, including Step-Smart and TurboMed, and that didn't give me the comfort and discreet solution I was looking for, I started asking myself, "How hard could it be to invent my own?" I went to work on it and, to my surprise, came up with a solution that had such an impact on me that -- after a few months of convincing myself that this had really happened -- I had to share it with others and bring it to market. This is the story of how TreadStrap came to be.

In 2004 I had "routine" surgery to repair a herniated disc. The fusion of my L4/L5 vertebra was going to fix my chronic and severe back pain. It did, but it was also botched and left me partially paralysed with dorsiflexion weakness in my left foot and total dorsiflexion loss in my right. Total foot drop. I spent a month in the hospital where I started to learn to walk again and then I spent six weeks at a rehab facility. It took me several months to get off the walker and cane.

Since day one I wore a hinged, foot-plate AFO that I had shortened after a few months from calf-high to ankle-high. And after that I tried to put it out of my mind and just deal with it. Make it a part of me. Doing so ended up damaging my body. 

Ignoring the foot pain in both feet that I had and accepting what the doctors said about its source -- neuropathy caused by the nerve damage in my back -- I just tried to suck it up and live my life as normal as I could. But over the years the foot pain was slowing me down. I had become more and more sedentary because it was painful to walk longer than 15 minutes. I did it all the time for hours at times, but it was a struggle. It was hard to stay motivated to be as active as I once was. 

Having three sons who were now near adults and tackling outdoor adventures in the Colorado mountains, including climbing 14-ers (14,000+ ft high mountains), I began to get more frustrated with my physical shape and lack of activity and I began asking myself if there was any way to get rid of the foot pain and if not, could I at least get rid of the plastic foot plate so I could more easily trick my brain into believing my feet were just fine. For the first time in 14 years, I began looking online for alternatives. Why it took me 14 years to do this is another question and one I prefer not to contemplate much, but it's an important question I'll address. First, a quick review of what happened when I started searching for alternatives online. 

I discovered soft AFOs, which no orthotist had previously clued me in on, are great if you're shoeless, but trying to wear them with shoes lead to greater fatigue. I wasn't likely to wear one anywhere but home.

Smart-Step I realised, immediately after getting it home from my orthotist, was basically what I had been wearing all along, just with a much less bulky foot plate (much less) and with a big fat hinge in the back instead of two hinges on either side.  It's a great product that has many fans, because it's a huge improvement over traditional calf-high AFOs, but it turned out to be less comfortable and discreet than my original AFO and I set it aside and continued my search. 

I next tried to get fitted for the WalkAide which is a cuff you wear under your knee which senses your gait and fires the perineal nerve that causes the dorsiflexion that lifts your foot while walking. High-tech. But it had been too long since my injury and my nerves were too atrophied to respond to the electrical impulses. So WalkAide wasn't going to be the miracle solution I thought it might for me. But if one is new to foot drop, I would recommend giving it a shot. But I would keep a back-up like TreadStrap in your back pocket, because reports at that time indicated issues with the device not working consistently. They appeared to still have bugs that were being worked out. But if insurance covers it or you have a large pile of cash, the WalkAide is a promising solution for many (but I'd still want a back up). When I learned it wasn't for me, I was a bit devastated but determined to continue my search. 

When I first saw TurboMed online I couldn't believe my eyes. What an amazing piece of engineering. And it truly is, especially given its radical departure from the standard. The idea of getting off a foot plate was put in my brain by the WalkAide and to discover another possibility was beyond exciting. When I got my TurboMed home I was both impressed and disappointed. It works as designed, but getting it to fit and work with the right shoes takes effort many won't want to bother with and if they do, there's not going to be a lot of switching between shoes. Once you have your TurboMed zip-tied to the clip -- which has to be zip-tied or wired to the eyelets or holes you put in your shoes with a drill or awl -- it becomes difficult to quickly switch the AFO between shoes. It's entirely doable and you get multiple clips and fans of the product would probably suggest it's easy to switch between shoes, but I discovered it's a lot of work to make that happen. 

But that wasn't the deal breaker for me with TurboMed. It was the fact that the product doesn't look or feel nearly as discreet as you might think it could be in the photos. It's like wearing a cage on your shoe and it gets as much attention on your foot as anything could. For everyday use, who cares who sees your brace in public, but for work and business meetings and social occasions I was inclined to fall back on my old original AFO for convenience and discretion. I started getting hungry for a solution that was both discreet and comfortable. 

Now having an appetite for a better solution that didn't involve a foot plate, I started starring down at my foot and began playing with it for hours and days and weeks asking the questions, "How hard can it be to lift the foot a few inches and do we really need all the plastic, carbon fiber and bulk -- and the pain and suffering that comes with it -- or is there a more minimalistic approach to AFO design nobody else has discovered?"

I began analysing how the foot could be lifted from the shoe from the inside and discovered the ankle could support a strap. And then I discovered how to anchor that strap inside the shoe and the Under Anchor was born. Developing the pads and fastener took the greater time and effort once I knew how I could attach the strap inside the shoe. 

After developing dozens of prototypes, I realised I had discovered a solution for myself. I couldn't believe it. It then took me several months at that point to accept this wasn't just some DIY thing I had developed, but I had come up with a viable solution that others could benefit from. And it was at this point I decided to place my current projects on the shelf and pursue bringing TreadStrap to market. And thanks to the support of family and friends, we made it happen.  It's the most rewarding, life-changing thing I've ever done. 

After bringing TreadStrap to market after less than a year from inventing it and after having used the product myself for over a year, something started happening.  The foot pain I had suffered with for 16 years was going away. I couldn't believe it was happening and couldn't believe it was because I got off the foot-plate AFO. Certainly my brain was tricking me, I thought. But sure enough, over the coming months, my pain would almost completely go away.  I don't have any pain when I walk or run anymore.  I still have some neuropathy that causes my feet to ache after standing (not walking), but for all I know that will eventually go away as well.

I believe the AFO was putting pressure on one or more nerves in my foot and I was getting referral pain in my opposite foot. So when the one AFO was removed for 9-12 months and there was no pressure on the right foot, the pain in both feet went away. 

I am not suggesting that a foot-plate AFO is going to cause nerve damage and foot pain for everyone, but I can attest to the fact that getting off mine for many months eventually allowed my feet and the nerves that were being impacted to heal and the pain has gone away.  After 16 years. 

I could spend my days being angry that I spent 16 years with an AFO that caused debilitating foot pain and kept me from living the adventurous life with my sons that I might have otherwise been able to experience. But I'd rather focus on the new life I have ahead getting back to the level of activity I once enjoyed and maybe climbing a 14-er with them one day. Once again I find myself dreaming dreams I thought had become unattainable.  

One of my new dreams is changing lives with TreadStrap. I'm proud to report it's already happening. Inventing the product has been personally rewarding, but nothing feels quite as amazing as knowing others can benefit, too. Thank you to all those who decided to dream that TreadStrap could help you, too. But I know some will read this who won't be able to benefit from TreadStrap and I want to share a quick message to anyone reading this who deals with foot drop or any chronic medical challenges. 

After my initial recovery from surgery in 2004, I became consumed with depression and anger. But I reached a point where I realised to cope mentally, I had to just accept my situation and deal with it. Whatever the pain or inconvenience, I would just plow through. With as much gratitude for what I still had left in life (a lot) as I could muster. 

But my acceptance became resignation. I could have accepted my situation but still pushed on my orthotists and doctors more for better answers and done more investigation online more consistently to find new and better solutions. I stopped fighting. I became resigned that my foot pain and AFO suffering would just be with me for life. I could have been a better advocate for myself. I just needed to find some hope. And after 14 years I went to find some. And I found a lot more than hope. 

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about TreadStrap and I hope if it's not the right solution for you that you please remember that you never know where you will find better solutions, so never stop searching.