High Heels Could Contribute to Joint Degeneration; Knee Osteoarthritis

A new study by an Iowa State University (ISU) kinesiology master’s student has found that prolonged wearing of and walking in heels can contribute to joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis.

Danielle Barkema recently completed her thesis research studying the effects of high-heeled walking on forces acting on lower extremity joints. Kinesiology professor and department head Phil Martin assisted her in the study, which will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics (ASB), at Brown University in Providence, R.I.

“Obviously with research like this, you can’t say with any certainty that if you wear high heels regularly you will develop osteoarthritis. We don’t know that,” Barkema stated in a press release. “There are probably people [high heel wearers] who do and those who do not. However, based on this information, wearing high heels puts individuals at greater risk for developing osteoarthritis. And it seems to be that the higher the heel height, the greater the risk.”

Barkema selected three different heel heights and had each of the 15 women in her study complete walking trials. She measured the forces acting about the knee joint and the heel strike-induced shock wave that travels up the body when walking in heels. Using sensors, accelerometers and lab equipment such as a force platform and markers/cameras, she was able to capture motion and force data and translate them into results that could change the way millions of women select their footwear.

While previous studies have examined the effect of high heels on joints, the ISU researchers found that heel height changes walking characteristics such as slower speeds and shorter stride lengths. As the heels got higher, they also saw an increase in the compression on the medial side of the knee.

“This means that prolonged wearing and walking in heels could, over time, contribute to joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis,” Barkema said.

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