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Women's Health

Ladies: Say No to High Heels

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April 6, 2001 -- Pretty woman, walking down the street ... may be better off doing her strolling in flats if she's concerned about developing "wear and tear" arthritis of the knee.

Many women may choose wide-heeled shoes over stilettos or narrow-heeled shoes because they are more comfortable, but a Harvard study in this week's issue of TheLancet finds that wide heels raise the risk of developing knee osteoarthritis as much as, or more than, stiletto heels.

Affecting more than 21 million Americans, osteoarthritis is characterized by the breakdown of the joint's cartilage. This breakdown causes bones to rub against each other, causing pain and loss of movement. It usually affects hands and weight-bearing joints, such as knees, hips, feet, and the back.

"Just wear flats," Harvard researcher D. Casey Kerrigan, MD, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation, tells WebMD. "I am strongly against wearing heels at all," says Kerrigan, who never wears them." Throw them out," she says, adding that women shouldn't be victims of fashion.

Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, and it's twice as common in women. "The use of heels is a likely reason," Kerrigan speculates.

During the study, 20 women, with an average age of 35, wore wide- or narrow-heeled shoes with a heel height of 2.75 inches. The stiletto heel was less than half an inch in width, while the wider heels were 1.77 inches wide. They walked 30 feet -- approximately one-half block -- in each type of heel and then did the same barefoot.

Both types of heels increased pressure on knee joints while walking, Kerrigan and colleagues report. The wide-heeled shoes increased knee-joint pressure by 26%, while the stilettos upped pressure by 22%. Increased pressure in the knee joint is thought to play a role in the development of osteoarthritis.

"Wide heels may be comfortable on your feet and you may feel more stable, so you tend to wear them longer than stilettos, but the forces that cause pressure on the knees are the same, if not greater, than what occurs with narrow heels," she says, so wide heels may be even more dangerous to the knees that narrow heels.

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