Experts have estimated that 77% of American adults in general experience some form of foot pain sometime in their life.
One study from Australia found that 91 percent of construction workers suffered from foot pain, and improper work boots were a frequently cited cause.
Can work boots cause foot pain?
Yes! Work boots are very heavy, the Timberland 6” Pit Boss for example weighs a combined 2 pounds and 10 ounces. If you must walk across a site a lot or do a lot of maneuvering with these boots on, then of course your feet are going to tire from the additional weight.
As well as weight, work boots, unlike regular trainers or smart shoes will not adapt to the contours of your feet over time. Remember the odd-stiff feeling from a new pair of boots before you ‘break them in?
With a new pair of work boots that feeling will last longer as the thick rubber will be less flexible to the shape of your feet.
This will restrain your feet from their natural movements and cause you to develop mild or even severe pains.
Work boots can also encourage unhealthy proprioception.
Proprioception is the ability of the brain to sense the relative movements and positions of the different parts of your body.
Owing to the distance between your brain and your feet this is most difficult with your feet, and it is even harder with boots as they can disorient you and make your mind-body awareness worse.
Confused proprioception causes pain by allowing you to place excess strain on your feet without you realizing it.
The risks of wearing cheap work boots
The cheaper the work boots (or the lower quality sometimes) the greater the problems of weight, inflexibility, and poor proprioception can become.
Cheaper work boots are less likely to be customized to the contours of your feet, and the tough material they are made from this can cause short-term discomfort and longer-term health issues.
But as well as being harder on your feet and causing long-term ailments, going for cheaper boots is also a massive risk to your own safety!
And, as with buying regular shoes, buying cheap can often mean buying twice. Cheap work boots are cheap for a reason; if they are made from inferior materials then wear and tear over time will cause them to be less protective of your feet and over time this will become very dangerous.
What kind of problems work boots could cause to your feet?
Footwear that is too heavy, too tight, too hot, or, conversely, not insulative enough can all cause problems to your feet.
1. Athlete’s Foot
Contrary to the name, you do not have to be an athlete to get this condition. Wearing ill-fitting work boots, and pushing your feet against them frequently, can cause this condition also.
The fungi that cause this condition thrive in close, warm, and damp conditions, so after a long period on your feet in tight boots, your toes pressed together, this is a common condition among workers in construction.
2. Nail Problems
If footwear does not fit properly and consequently presses against the side of your feet while you are working, then this can send your skin into your nail plate, causing ingrown toenails and fungal toenail infections
While athlete’s feet can develop on warm worksites, with poorly ventilated boots trapping in heat and moisture in which certain fungi thrive, the opposite can equally apply. This is a list of great work boots for summer and warm weather in general.
If you are working on a cold worksite during winter and your boots are not fur-lined or insulative then you can develop numbness or even frostbite on your toes.
Frostbite is where blood flow to extremities (usually your fingers or toes) reduces as the vital organs are prioritized, with the result that your toes become numb, and as an extreme consequence can become more vulnerable to infection. Check out our page about winter work boots to keep your feet warm and help you reduce the risk of frostbite.
4. Collapsed Arches
A more long-term effect of wearing ill-supporting footwear is collapsed or fallen arches.
If your boot does not properly support the back of your leg muscles then they can tighten from overuse, straining the ligaments that support your arch, causing the arch to lower which will be very painful in your arch and in your muscle tendons.
What can you do about it?
I’ve asked Dr. Anne to share with us a few tips related to what you can do when you’re buying work boots for the first time in order to avoid pain and discomfort…
Shop for boots at the end of the day when your feet are most swollen to ensure a good fit.
Dr. Anne Sharkey – Podiatrist D.P.M
This one was a very good one and I personally haven’t thought about it before. It makes a lot of sense since your feet will be swollen during the day and that can have a big influence on how the boots will fit.
Another good tip was to try the boots you’re buying wearing the socks you plan to wear with the boots. This will ensure that the work boots will fit with socks you will use at your work.
One last tip is choosing boots with a toe box that will accommodate toes and leave room for breathing will decrease the risk of ingrown toenails, athlete’s foot, and blisters.
Are slip on ‘rigger’ work boots bad for your feet?
Slip-on boots or ‘rigger boots’ are named for the professionals who use them most often, workers on oil rigs. These kinds of boots slip on and off very easily because if workers on an oil rig fall into the ocean, they need to be able to slip these boots off quickly to stay afloat and swim to safety.
But, unless you work on an oil rig, rigger boots are often an inappropriate choice for your feet. They offer no support for your ankles unlike more conventional designs, and so rolls, slips and more serious injuries for workers who wear rigger boots are very common.
Rigger boots also offer no midsole protection, so they are unsafe on worksites with nails or glass on the floor. You are inadequately protecting the soles of your feet if you go onto a worksite with nails and glass with these kinds of boots, and if something goes wrong you will be in for a world of pain.
For these exact reasons, some medium to large-sized construction firms has banned rigger boots on their construction sites as they are unsafe for their working environment.
Conclusion: Can work boots be bad for your feet? What can be done?
Most definitely! Make sure the boots you are buying work boots that fit your feet and also that are fit for your purpose.
If you’re buying comfortable work boots you’ve solved the majority of the problems that a work boot can cause you. In my experience work boots will cause you pain due to the poor quality materials used in the boot.
So, even if you’re on the budget, please don’t go for the lowest boots you can find at any online or local store.
Also, consider getting some better quality insoles. Most work boots come with very poor quality insoles. Personally, I always change them with something that can provide me with some good arch support and shock absorption.
And, if you are experiencing any form of foot pains, from athlete’s foot to collapsed arches, seek expert medical advice.
Team Members Working On This Page
Construction Professional, driver, crane operator, cleaner, head chef … these are just some of the jobs I did in the past. Working in all these different environments taught me that having good footwear to protect your feet from different dangers at work IS PARAMOUNT for any worker! On this website, I aim to share all my knowledge and personal experience in dealing with different footwear and foot care issues, and hopefully, you can get something out of it. Enjoy!
Love technology, going to the beach, taking care of my body, and writing (amongst other things). You’ll see my face around here a little bit since I’m responsible for part of the research and writing of some of the articles you’re reading on BestForMyFeet.com. I hope you’ll find our content helpful and enjoyable! See you around, thanks for reading!
Our Board Certified Podiatrist
I am a board-certified podiatrist based in Texas. I am also a wife and a mom. When not working I enjoy reading, coffee, traveling, cycling on my Peloton, and photography. I believe in individualized treatment plans based on each patient’s goals. I believe that being both a mom and physician is absolutely possible. Also, I like to land a hand when needed answering foot-related questions here on BestForMyFeet.com. By the way, if you have any questions let’s book an appointment https://www.northaustinfeet.com/ and talk about your feet.