Higher heels cause higher risk to joints

Katherine Klingseis

Beauty is pain. Anyone who has ever worn high heels can attest to this fact.

Danielle Barkema, graduate student in kinesiology, recently found wearing high heels may cause more than just temporary discomfort.

Barkema recently finished her thesis research examining the forces acting upon the lower extremity joints when women wear high heels. Phil Martin, professor of kinesiology, helped Barkema with her study — Barkema’s sister, Ashley, helped her come up with the idea.

“After graduation, my twin sister moved out to Chicago, and she was working as a retail manager at a popular department store,” Barkema said. “She was basically wearing high heals everyday — all day, everyday, for the most part — and she noticed that a lot of her co-workers were doing the same. She noticed that the older women had problems, issues, with their joints like knee problems, hip problems, things like that.”

Barkema decided to see for herself whether wearing high heels causes joint problems. To do this, she had 15 women, including her sister, do walking trials wearing shoes that had no heal, a two-inch heel or a three-and-a-half-inch heel.

“We were able to measure motion data in our lab,” Barkema said. “We put all these reflective markers on people as they walked, and that gives us information about their actual motion of their body. And we also had them walk over a force platform, which measures the forces acting on the body.”

Barkema’s research focused heavily on studying the amount of load on the inner, or medial, knee. Barkema wanted to find out if the amount of load correlates to the height of the heel.

“These greater medial loads are associated with the development of osteoarthritis over time,” Barkema said. “It’s sort of a long-term type of thing, but we just wanted to see if it did get higher with higher heel height; and that was what we saw.”

From her study, which will be presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics, Barkema concluded that:

“Basically wearing high heels, especially higher heels, puts individuals at greater risk for developing knee osteoarthritis over time, in the long run,” Barkema said.

Although Barkema found that wearing high heels leads to long-term problems, she does not advise women to stop wearing high heels altogether.

“What I tell my friends, and what I kind of abide by as well, is to try to limit yourself as much as you can,” Barkema said. “If you can avoid wearing them all day, everyday, you will probably do yourself a huge favor. Just limit your wearing as much as you can.”