A new study has found that prolonged wearing of and walking in high heels can contribute to joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis.
An Iowa State University kinesiology master's student 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 chair Phil Martin assisted her in the study.
Barkema selected three different heel heights - flat, two inches, and 3.5 inches - 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.
The ISU researchers found that heel height changes walking characteristics such as slower speeds and shorter stride lengths. And as the heels got higher, they also saw an increase in the compression on the inside - or 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.
"I think Danielle's exactly right. Wearing high heels regularly puts a person at risk and the higher the heel, the greater the risk," Martin added.
"The loading that's being produced in the joint with every step that they take is higher - or at least, these data suggest that. These are not direct measures of loading within the joint, but they're an alternative way of looking at that kind of loading."
The study will be presented, in part, at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics (ASB), August 18-21, at Brown University in Providence, RI.