YEEHAW!!!! Whether you’re suiting up at the break of dawn to go and herd the cattle, going horseback riding, grabbing your partner to do some line dancing, or you simply want something to go with your best pair of jeans, the cowboy boot has survived the test of time and remains a go-to shoe for many people in the Great Plains. But a common question from many patients is whether the cowboy boot is a “good” choice for foot health. The answer may, in fact, be yes and no.
Equestrian riding boots have been around for centuries, however, during the cattle drive era of the mid to later 1800’s the American cowboy needed a boot that was tough enough to stand up to the rugged environment and long hours of the ranching lifestyle. Charles Hyer of Hyer Brothers Boots was one of the best-known boot makers of this era. His shop was based out of Olathe, Kansas.
Why the cowboy boot is a good choice for foot health:
The traditional style of a cowboy boot consists of a tall leather shaft without laces. This will protect the foot, ankle, and lower part of the leg from rocks, brush, thorns, and wildlife. They may also provide protection from rattlesnakes! The height of the shaft also allows for protection from mud and puddles during wet weather conditions. This design feature keeps the foot dry, which helps avoid environments favorable for foot fungus and frostbite in colder conditions. The lack of laces on a cowboy boot helps avoid the foot getting stuck in saddle, therefore avoiding significant injury to the foot and ankle. One common diagnosis seen in the foot and ankle is insertional Achilles tendon pain to the back of the heel. Heel lifts may be used to treat this ailment. The cowboy boot is made with an elevated heel which shortens the Achilles tendon and reduces the strain, reducing pain. Lastly, the sole of the cowboy boot is rigidly designed, which helps provide a stable foundation of the shoe. However…
Why the cowboy boot is NOT a good choice for foot health:
…the flat, thin sole provides no arch support which is necessary when treating structural deformities leading to common painful conditions like plantar fasciitis. The lack of laces allows heel slippage while walking. Heel slippage can lead to painful irritation and possible blister formation to the back of the heel. If not accustomed to this fit, you may be inclined to purchase a smaller size boot to avoid this slipping. But a smaller boot may lead to compression pain and nerve irritation of the entire foot. Similarly, a narrow, pointed toebox boot leads to forefoot compression and can lead to nerve irritation and pain referred to as Morton’s neuroma. The rigid construct of the boot can also make the use of custom orthotics or use of metatarsal pads difficult, as these devices may take up too much room in the boot and not allow enough room to actually put the boot on.
Depending on the reasoning for purchasing or wearing cowboy boots, you may be helping or hurting your feet. I always instruct my patients to wear activity-specific shoes to avoid injury and pain. If you are wearing your boots to protect your feet from terrain and need something to take a beating, then a cowboy boot is right for you. However, if you are wearing your cowboy boots simply for style and are suffering from heel or forefoot pain due to lack of structural stability, then the cowboy boot is likely exacerbating the symptoms. So whoopee ti yi yo git along without hurting your little doggies!!!