Shoe height impacts health

A new Iowa State University study shows
wearing high heels could lead to join degeneration and knee osteoarthritis.

The study by kinesiology master’s student
Danielle Barkema found that prolonged wearing of and walking in high heels can
contribute to the damage. Barkema studied the forces acting on lower joints as
a person walks in high heels.

“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 said. “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.”

“I tell my friends to try to wear high
heels in moderation and, if possible, to wear lower heels,” she said.

The idea for the research thesis topic
actually came from Barkema’s twin sister, Ashley, who said she saw the physical
toll regular high heel wear was having on her co-workers.

“Ashley began work as a retail manager at a
well-known department store in Chicago a few years ago,” Barkema said. “She, as
well as most of her co-workers, wore high heels on a daily basis. She noticed a
lot of the women, especially older women who had been wearing high heels
regularly, had various problems — problems with their knees and hips, etc.”

Kinesiology professor and department chair
Phil Martin assisted with the study.

The study focused on three different heel
heights: flat, 2 inches, and 3.5 inches.

Barkema studied 15 women who walking in the
heels and how the heel-strike-induced shock wave travelled 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.

ISU researchers said they 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 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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