The walking boot, or walking cast, is a popular type of medical equipment used in the healing process of bone breaks, sprains, and fractures in the lower extremities. They are also known as CAM walkers. CAM stands for controlled ankle movement.
In the medical world, these are useful in helping patients have a range of motion and mobility while healing from ankle, foot, and lower leg injuries. If your medical provider suggests a boot for your injury, you might be curious whether to choose a tall or short walking boot.
Each type has pros and cons specific to its capabilities and limitations throughout the healing process.
Keep reading to learn more about tall vs. short walking boots and what areas they best suit.
What Is a Tall Walking Boot?
A tall walking boot is designed to wrap your leg from the mid-calf to over the toes. Most of the time, these boots are for injuries affecting the calf, shin, or ankle.
They have a cushioned inner layer and a durable outer layer. Usually, they contain a metal or plastic outer layer.
The wrapping is made of banding or velcro, making it easy to remove and put back on when necessary.
Consider a tall walking boot, even for foot injuries, if you are taller than the average adult. Consult your physician for more information on choosing the right boot for your height if that is a concern.
Pros of a Tall Walking Boot
As mentioned, the tall walking boot is best for calf, shin, and ankle injuries. These boots provide shock absorption, vertical stability due to their height, and a comfortable interior liner. Most tall walking boots have velcro straps, which increase their versatility and ease of use.
A popular version of the tall walking boot is an Aircast, which allows you to pump air into the interior of the walking boot. The air compartment increases compression and support inside the cast.
Most often, tall walking boots are used in post-surgery recovery to help speed up the healing process and support the immobilization of the leg. Achilles repairs and ankle surgeries often require a tall boot as the form of immobilization for weeks to months after surgery to help with gradually increasing force to the foot and the repaired area.
Cons of a Tall Walking Boot
The tall walking boot might not be the best option for shorter-than-average patients because it might come up too high on their legs.
Tall walking boots are most beneficial for injuries sustained in the lower leg but closer to the calf and lower knee areas. If your injury occurs on your foot or ankle, a tall walking boot might be too restrictive of a treatment. Tall walking boots can also irritate the shin.
What Is a Short Walking Boot?
A short walking boot is similarly constructed to a tall walking boot, but it is much shorter.
Instead of reaching up to the mid or high calf, the short walking boot only extends to just above the ankle joint. The lower base extends to cover the toes.
Generally, the short walking boot is best used to treat foot, ankle, or heel injuries. Short walking boots are particularly useful if you suffer from injuries to the feet, like avulsion fractures in your metatarsals.
For example, studies show that the short walking boot is a better treatment for avulsion fractures than a hard cast.
Pros of a Short Walking Boot
Short walking boots are useful for people who are shorter or have smaller feet. These types of patients do not fit into tall walking boots as comfortably, and the tall boots might harm their gait after treatment.
The short walking boot offers stability to the affected area but freedom to move about as well as possible. It is also an excellent option for metatarsal injuries since they are so far down on your foot. These boots provide less irritation of the shin, a common issue with tall boots.
Cons of a Short Walking Boot
Short boots do not provide adequate support or protection for longer legs. If you are over six feet tall, you should choose a tall walking boot regardless of the location of the injury.
Short walking boots are also not the best option for ankle fractures or heavier sprains because they do not immobilize the leg as well.
How To Choose a Walking Boot
Now that you know the differences between tall vs. short walking boots, you might wonder how to choose one. The best way to decide on a boot is to determine the cause of the injury.
As mentioned, you will need to decide between a tall boot and a short boot based on the location of your injury since they offer varying levels of support, compression, and mobility. Follow this brief guide as a how-to on choosing the right walking boot for you!
- Step 1: Visit a doctor or urgent care specialist to determine the extent of the injury.
- Step 2: If they recommend laying off weight-bearing activities or immobilizing your foot and leg, move on to step three. Otherwise, a boot may not be necessary for your injury.
- Step 3: After deciding that a boot is the best course of action for your injury, determine the location of the injury. If it is higher up on your leg, choose a tall walking boot. If it is lower in your ankle or foot, go with a short walking boot.
- Step 4: Purchase the walking boot in your correct size. You can find more information on sizing below.
Follow the steps above to find the right boot for your injury and size!
Keep in mind that if you are shorter than average height, it may be a smart choice to go with a short boot for most injuries. If you are taller than the average adult, you might want to go with a tall boot for the majority of lower leg injuries.
If you are still unsure which walking boot is best for you and your needs, consult your doctor or physical therapist for assistance in choosing.
If you choose the wrong size or boot type, you might end up with secondary pain in another area due to a changing gait or an uncomfortable boot.
How To Choose the Right Boot Size
Unsurprisingly, walking boots come in different sizes and configurations.
Walking boots, both tall and short, come in men’s sizing, women’s sizing, and kids sizing. It is crucial to choose the right size for your foot so the boot accurately fits you.
Choosing a boot that is not the proper size can lead to an uneven gait, longer healing times, and uncomfortable or painful walking days. Follow these simple steps to choose the best walking boot for you.
- Step 1: Visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
- Step 2: Depending on the location of your injury, you might require a short or tall walking boot specifically. If either option is allowed, continue to Step 3. If your doctor recommends a specific model or size, go with the recommended boot.
- Step 3: Assess your foot size. Check out this easy-to-use comparison table to shoe size to boot size conversions below.
Women’s Shoe Size 4-6
Boot Size: XS
Men’s Shoe Size 6-8
Women’s Shoe Size 6.5 - 9
Boot Size: S
Men’s Shoe Size 8.5 - 10.5
Women’s Shoe Size 9.5 - 11.5
Boot Size: M
Men’s Shoe Size 11 - 13.5
Women’s Shoe Size 12 +
Boot Size: L
- Step 4: After you find your size and determine the site of the injury, you can now order a walking boot that is perfect for your situation.
If you have followed all steps and are still unsure which size or type is best for you, consult your physician or a telehealth specialist. You can also check out the frequently asked questions on the manufacturer’s website for more information on specific models.
Is an Aircast the Same as a Walking Boot?
In short, yes. An Aircast is a subcategory of a walking boot, making it nearly the same as a traditional walking boot.
Your physician might recommend an Aircast as a next-step option if you were previously in a hard cast without mobility or weight-bearing capabilities. They may also offer it as an alternative to a hard cast if your injury is mild enough.
The Aircast allows you to pump up small air pockets within the walking boot to increase the support, compression, and stability of your leg inside the walking boot.
If your healthcare provider has given you the go-ahead, you can remove the cast to shower or bathe and put it back on for all other activities. It is a much more flexible option when healing lower extremity injuries while providing much-needed security to your leg.
Usually, Aircasts are recommended for tall walking boots, but the brand does manufacture short walking boot versions.
Tall and short walking boots have their place in the medical world. Though it may seem like a tough decision between tall vs. short walking boots, clear pros and cons of each type exist.
Luckily, if you visit your doctor or healthcare provider for a diagnosis of the injury, they can help lead you in the right direction. Consult them if you have any uncertainty when choosing a walking boot.
If you are in the market for a walking boot or want more information on which one to choose, we hope this informative how-to on choosing the right walking boot for your situation helps you make an informed decision.