Bursitis Pro

March 02, 2016

Somewhere out there is a climber who owned a pair of Mythos that I found as they were being thrown out, but which saved an entire season of mine in Kalymnos. I’d like to repay this person with a free pair of new shoes from my sponsor, La Sportiva! 

That’s right — win a free pair of Spotivas!

The shoe was on the Fatolitis Tree, with an identifying mark drawn onto it. If you can prove it was yours, with the size, color, and description of the mark, you score! Just email me via my contact form and I will have La Sportiva hook you up.

To everyone else out there, please help me find this Crimperella!

And get prepared for a story of intrigue, desperation, motivation, and utter destruction of climbing shoes.

My struggle is real.

Three weeks into my fall trip to Kalymnos, I started feeling pain in my heel every time I tried to get my climbing shoe on. It turned red and eventually I got a fluid filled bump at the size of a big grape right at the attachment of the Achilles tendon.

This is called bursitis and it sucks. It’s an inflammation of the bursa — a fluid filled sack that lies between the tendon and the bone, to protect the ligaments from friction over the bone.

climber with bursitis

If you have deformed heel bones, and I do, and if you wear aggressive shoes, the heel band of the shoe presses the Achilles into a protrusion on the heel bone and the bursa gets mad and swells up. For most people, this means a forced rest of a few months.

I refused a forced rest! So I taped it down to push away the fluid. It would hurt like crazy to get the shoe on, but the fluid disappeared after I started climbing and the tape prevented it from swelling up again.

I kept it taped at night to keep the fluid out, and it actually worked for a while. But this is not the advisable thing to do: I got a gigantic blood blister and eventually an enormous open wound on top. It got so bad I couldn’t even get my approach shoes on (I’d be unable to wear them for nearly two months).

After a doctor visit and two weeks rest it hadn’t healed at all, so I started to get really worried about the rest of my trip. This led to me experimenting with several ideas of how to get my shoe back on.

First I wondered about grinding down the rubber on the heel cup, to see if I could stretch out more space for my “bump.” I visited Mike’s Bikes, and while Mike was skeptical about my genius idea, he agreed to give it a go. He attacked it with a grinder he was using to repair a scooter, but after his hard work I still had no chance of getting the shoe back on.

climbing shoes bursitis

In a fit of desperation while everyone else was out climbing, I decided to take my idea even further. I took a kitchen knife I was able to cut out a big hole where the bump was. Pretty good idea I thought, but the lack of rubber on the back of the shoe put too much pressure on the little rubber that was left of the heel tensioning band, and it would dig into the sides of my Achilles. I was worried this would create an even bigger problem by rupturing the tendon so I abandoned the plan.

I was disappointed that my ideas didn’t work, so I kept experimenting. I tried to make thick pads from different materials (yoga mats, newspaper, even maxi pads – you name it!) and I cut holes in them to take pressure off the bump. But nothing really worked because I didn’t manage to make them stay in place as I was getting my shoe on.

For a while I had played with making a prosthetic heel out of soft rubber, with a built-in hole for the bump. If I built a rubber cup around my heel I thought it would stay in place, and keep its shape. The plan was to find an extra shoe that was a few sizes too big, and use the heel cup to fill the extra space in the back of the shoe.

My first problem was that I didn’t know what to build it out of or how to get it. I knew about something called Sugru, that I use to fix my charging cables at home. It is a soft paste that is easy to form and dries in ten minutes into a flexible rubber. My second problem was that the amount that I would need to build a heel cup would be super expensive, and that I wouldn’t be able to find Sugru in Kalymnos anyway.

After searching around I found a homemade recipe online: transparent silicon and corn starch, that’s it! Easy! We scooted around the island trying to find corn starch — I suffered a failed attempt using corn meal — and I went to work. I got the mix right and covered my heel with plastic and started building. I was happy with the result.

Now I just needed a bigger climbing shoe to fit into. Having Sportiva send over a brand new pair of shoes that I never would be able to use again after healing up seemed sort of nuts, so I walked down to the massive tree of old shoes at the Fatolitis Bar and looked for an old shoe that could fit. Scooooore!!

The next day, Nathan and I were climbing again for the first time in two and a half weeks. On my right foot I wore my regular Sportiva Futura and on my left I had the five-sizes-too-big shoe from Fatolitis, complete with oxidized rubber and a hole. But I couldn’t have been happier.

shoe who fits bursitis

It’s interesting how grateful you can be for the smallest improvements when you loose the ability and get it back.

Or maybe I was just happy that my idea had worked 🙂

Anyway, I quickly got tired of being “Bigfoot” and decided to just cut the entire back of my old Futura off and tape front half onto my foot. It was nearing the end of its life, so I didn’t feel too bad. This worked okay on steep terrain, and we played around in Grande Grotto the next day.

how to modify a climbing shoe bursitis

However, even this got tiring after a while, because I was convinced the shoe would just pop off at any time once I started to sweat and the tape lost its stickiness.

Every day I tested if I could get my regular shoe back on, only to get disappointed, so I went back to Fatolitis and looked for another shoe. As luck would have it, they were throwing out all the old shoes that afternoon, so I just dug through the pile.


Eventually I found an old La Sportiva Mythos, just a couple sizes bigger than my performance shoes. The model has a really low heel cup, and if you size it a little big and make a pad for the heel out of old yoga mats, you can tighten the shoe across the toe and it climbs pretty well.

I so badly wish I knew the angel who left this shoe, because it saved the rest of my trip. Mike at Kalymnos Resole crushed it with some fresh rubber and I was back on the rock immediately. (Mike, by the way, did one of the best resole jobs I’ve ever seen).

If you left it on the Fatolitis tree this season, and you are out there, reading this – THANK YOU!!

And thank you La Sportiva, for making the perfect climbing shoe for climbers struggling with bursitis. The Mythos turns out to be what I like to call the “Bursitis Pro.”

Don’t forget that La Sportiva will donate a free pair of climbing shoe to the owner of this shoe, so get in touch with me!

la sportiva climbing shoe