Beyond the Toe: What is a Metatarsal Guard?



What’s the deal with met guards and metatarsal boots?


For years, safety toe and work boots were the gold standard of workplace shoe safety. But, as safety standards and technology have advanced, more workers are going beyond the toe to choose metatarsal guards, also known as met guards.

A steel or composite toe protects the phalanges (aka your toes). This area is often exposed and puts your metatarsal bones at risk due to the lack of skin, muscle, or fat in that area. The drawback? These safety toe boxes only cover about 1” to 1.5” of the foot, leaving the metatarsals—the long bones that connect the toes to the ankle—unprotected. So, if a heavy object is dropped closer to the body, you are still at risk of a foot injury. A met-guard reduces this risk by extending the protection of the safety toe all the way to the ankle joint. This gives you maximum protection in your ankle and metatarsal area which help to keep your feet extra protected from injury on the job.


Metatarsal boots—work boots that contain met guards (nearly all of which also have safety toes)—are used in many industries, including transportation and shipping, manufacturing and production, construction, mining, and maintenance. The metatarsal region is a sensitive area with the bones being more easily breakable or susceptible to a foot injury. Therefore, we believe that a met guard boot should be the standard for any workplace where heavy objects or dangerous materials may come in contact with the top of the foot.


Save Yourself a Whole Lot of Foot Trouble

The human foot is an incredibly complex structure, containing 26 bones and 33 joints. Metatarsal fractures make up 5% of all foot fractures and can occur because of falls, direct trauma, or rotational injuries, according to MDedge.


Most workplace metatarsal injuries are caused by direct trauma (like the impact of a falling object), resulting in acute fractures. Many of these injuries can take up to 12 weeks to heal and may require surgery. A fracture at the fifth metatarsal, known as a Jones fracture, can take even longer because of a lack of blood in the area.


Treatment of metatarsal injuries includes immobilization through casts, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy.


As the saying goes, the best medicine is prevention and with your metatarsal protection boots, you can guard yourself from possible injury today.


Choosing the Right Metatarsal Boots

There are two types of metatarsal boots: those with external met guards and those with internal met guards.

External metatarsal guards

External guards form a shell-like cover over the instep area of a shoe or boot just behind the safety toe cap. They typically cover the shoelaces and are made of a rigid, protective piece of plastic or metal wrapped in leather or other materials and backed with a dense foam padding for comfort and impact absorption. Since they’re on the outside of the rubber or leather shoe, they cover a larger surface area than internal met guards. When an object hits an external met guard, the object impacts the firm shell on top of the foot while the soft backing of the metatarsal guard absorbs and distributes this impact with its cushioning and thus offers an increased protection to the fragile metatarsal bones over those designs without a metatarsal guard. Another positive to investing in an external metatarsal guard would be the ability to remove the guard when working on less dangerous activities. This gives you freedom to choose the size and level of protection you want without having to worry about carrying the extra weight around in less-threatening situations.


These guards work especially well for jobs that require welding to protect the worker’s feet, laces and shoes from sparks, slag and falling chunks of metal. Not to mention the extreme levels of heat that are present in a welding profession, meta guards should be an essential form of safety precaution. In the case of a slower impact (which applies more of a compression-like pressure)—for example, where a truck slowly rolls over your foot, the design of external met guard boots offers slightly more protection than internal metatarsal boots. Additionally, in other jobs that require the use of high powered cutting tools, meta guards can also be a necessary safety precaution. A metatarsal boot will help safeguard against large cuts or sharp blades that can severely injure your foot.


Internal met guards

Internal guards are integrated into the shoe beneath the laces. They’re typically composed of one of two types of design and materials:

Material structured like maneuverable and flexible scales wrapped in a soft padding, almost like a snake’s belly on top of the foot behind the tongue; or

Soft, absorptive material (specially designed Urethane) also behind the tongue to absorb impact.

Both of these types provide flexibility. They are smaller and more inconspicuous than the external metatarsal guard and the internal met guard technology offers protection that’s on par with external guards in terms of sudden impacts but possibly less than the external on slow compression. The absorptive material in particular has an impressive ability to tighten up its structure on quick, sudden impact, softly catching and slowing the velocity of the fallen item as soon as it comes into contact with the shoe and displacing its energy. Internal guards also provide a more streamlined aesthetic look. For workplaces where getting caught on machinery is a concern, an internal metatarsal boot is a safer option than external metatarsal boots.


While these two materials function differently, neither type of internal met guard covers as large of a surface area as external met guards. Internal met guards also offer less protection from slow, compression impacts compared to external guards.

Every ASTM-certified met guard will still provide the same minimum level of protection, regardless if it uses external or internal technology. But how do you decide which type of metatarsal boot is the best option? If your workplace has more risks of sudden impacts from falling objects, internal met guards may be a better choice. If you’re around a lot of moving machinery or equipment that could roll over your foot, or you’re exposed to molten metal from welding, external met guards will deliver superior protection. Ultimately, it is up to the wearer to determine which type of metatarsal boot is best for them. By considering factors such as your work environment and ideal comfort level, that will help you identify which metatarsal work boot is best for you!


Still wondering "what are safety shoes" or where to find the best quality foot protection? Read on for more information on the origin and purpose of safety shoes.


A Wide Selection of Metatarsal Guard Boots

More industries are moving toward making met guards standard personal protection equipment. But you don’t have to wait. Unlike most retailers, Boot World has a variety of metatarsal boots—including women’s metatarsal boots, which can be hard to find. Every met guard boot carries the “MET” symbol to indicate compliance with ASTM standards for metatarsal safety.


When you shop one of our convenient locations or online at www.bootworld.com, look for the “MET” symbol and Boot World’s 11 other Advantage Icons to ensure that you’ve selected the right boot for the job.

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