Why are metatarsal work boots so important? Because the metatarsal bones of the foot are very vulnerable to injury because the front of the foot sticks out beyond the body line, inviting a rolling or falling object to collide with this unprotected part of the body. This picture of the metatarsal bones in the foot demonstrates how exposed to injury this part of the foot is.
Just rub the top (or metatarsal area) of your own foot with your hand, and you can feel the unprotected metatarsal bones right next to the surface of the skin. In fact using the diagram below you can almost feel and identify each of the metatarsal bones in your foot. Notice how close the bones are to the skin and note that there is virtually no flesh, muscle, or fat, protecting the bones in this part of your body.
So why not just wear the safety-toe to protect your feet? Take a look at the two side-by-side diagrams below.
As the left diagram shows, the safety-toe, by itself, only protects the big toe and two to three toes; still leaving the rest of the foot from the toes all the way back to the ankle area highly susceptible to injury. That’s 15 to 20 very vulnerable bones plus all the attached joints, ligaments, nerves, and muscles, which can be 80 to 90% protected with metatarsal boots. (Reference the right diagram.) Each foot and ankle contain 26 bones, 33 joints, and 107 ligaments, 19 muscles, plus tendons and nerves, and together both feet contain 25% of all the bones in your body.
Most all of us have dropped a small object, like a bar of soap or bottle of shampoo, on our foot, and know how much that can hurt, and now you see why. Without metatarsal protection, a small impact to the foot can be painful because there is very little flesh and muscle to protect those metatarsal bones, and it doesn’t take much more of an impact to cause a disabling injury because all those bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves, are exposed and unprotected!
With this obvious need in a work boot or shoe, how do you choose which Metatarsal Boot is best for you?
There are three general types of metatarsal guards - external metatarsal guards and internal metatarsal guards, plus a new External/Internal Super Met-Guard. All have to meet the same ASTM F2413-11 Metatarsal Safety Shoe Standard, using the specific impact test for metatarsal guards ASTM F2412-11. A 50-pound weight in the shape of a 1 inch diameter bar is dropped eighteen inches onto the metatarsal area of the shoe, resulting in a 75 foot-pound impact to the metatarsal guard. A full 1-inch clearance must be maintained under the metatarsal impact area on the inside of the shoe. The results are clearly seen and measured from a soft wax foot-form, which was placed within the shoe before the test and removed afterward to measure the deflection of the guard during impact
So what is the difference between the two types of guards?
Originally, Metatarsal Boots were only made with External Guards, that are made of impact resistant plastic and sit on the outside of the shoe covering the lace (or metatarsal area) and extending down to and resting on the safety toe. Some External Guards are encased in a leather pocket for both looks and added protection from sparks and heat, while others have just the exposed plastic guard.
In the past, External Guards were not very popular with employees because they were stiff, heavy, uncomfortable, and the External Guards often caught on floor stock and material causing trips and falls; but they certainly offered a lot of added protection corporations wanted for their employees. Eventually, the complaints about External Guards causing trips and falls and their unsightly appearance lead to the development of the Internal Guards. One positive for the External Guard is that although both Internal and External Metatarsal Guards meet the same ASTM Standard, the External Guard does seem to test a little better than the Internal Guard.
Thus, some corporations continue to require the External Guard for their employees, believing it is somewhat safer. Repeating though, both the External and Internal Guards have to pass the same ASTM F2413-11 Standard and both use the same Metatarsal Guard testing method described in ASTM F2412-11.
Newer versions of the External Guard Metatarsal Boot have gotten better, lighter, more flexible and more comfortable. The use of hinge-style Metatarsal Guards have made the guards a little more flexible than the original stiff, rigid guards, and lighter-weight Polyurethane soles, as well as the use of direct-attach construction and better cement construction techniques have dramatically improved the resilience and elasticity of soles and mid-soles of the External Metatarsal Boots. These improvements have made External Metatarsal Boots much more comfortable today.
The Internal Metatarsal Guard is often the more preferred Guard because External Metatarsal Boots are less attractive, with the large guard attached to the front of the boot. In the past, Internal Guards had their share of comfort issues too, mainly because of the stiff guard placed under the lacing system and extending and resting on the safety toe. These stiff guards were difficult to flex and also uncomfortable, but in recent years, Internal Guards also have been revolutionized with incredible new, technically-advanced, impact-resistant materials that are thinner, much more flexible, and way more comfortable.
Today, there are still a lot of plastic Internal Guards, but the exciting, new, Internal Guard is made of PORON XRD® by Rogers Corporation, a microcellular, urethane, open cell, breathable material, that is amazingly effective in dissipating the energy of high speed impacts. Despite being light-weight and very thin, Poron XRD® can effectively dissipate up to 90% of the energy of a high energy impact. This new material is revolutionizing the Metatarsal Boot business because now just about any kind of boot or shoe can be made into a Metatarsal Guard, without effecting the look or comfort of the boot or shoe. This is an amazing development!
External Guards are typically limited to 6"-8" Metatarsal Boots and a few Wellingtons.
Now, a new, special third type of Metatarsal Guard is being introduced by HYTEST, a division of Wolverine Boots and Shoes, which developed this revolutionary, new guard in answer to a Client’s challenge to build a stronger, safer Metatarsal Boot—one that would test significantly better than the typical Metatarsal Boot. Thus, HYTEST created the "Super-Guard X", which incorporates a new triple-guard design, featuring a new, two-piece, External Metatarsal Guard that covers much more of the foot than previous guards, and the Poron XRD® Internal Guard. Together, this very impressive design, is testing 50% better than the typical Metatarsal Boot. Instead of testing with a 1-inch clearance, it’s getting an amazing 1.5 inch clearance.
Clearly Metatarsal Boots are very necessary in many environments. When shopping for your Metatarsal Boot, it is important to remember that certain industries and companies have specific requirements, regarding which guard they prefer; however, advanced technology has made and is making all 3 options (Internal, External, and the new Internal/External Super Met-Guard Metatarsal Boots) much safer, much lighter, more comfortable, in addition to being available in a myriad of styles that are better looking and more affordable.