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Thursday, 5 April, 2001, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
Sturdy heels 'damage knees'
Stiletto heels - not the only shoes that are bad for your health
Stiletto heels: Not the only shoes that are bad for your health
Thin high heels have long been known to be bad for your feet and joints.

But in a blow to women who rely on their trusty high-heeled sturdy court shoes as office footwear, American researchers say wearing them can help cause osteoarthritis.

However UK arthritis experts said the findings did not prove wearing heels caused osteoarthritis, and said it was unlikely women would change their shoe-buying habits.

In the study, published in The Lancet, the US researchers found wide-heeled shoes caused 30% greater pressure on the knee than walking barefoot.


We recommend wearing shoes with low or preferably no heels

Dr Casey Kerrigan,
Harvard Medical School
The particular parts of the knee affected are those which deteriorate as osteoarthritis develops.

Women's and men's knees are not biologically different, so the researchers wanted to find out why twice as many women as men develop osteoarthritis in the joint.

The team from Harvard Medical School monitored 20 women, with an average age of 34, who normally wore both kinds of shoe.

They were asked to walk along a 10m gangway barefoot, and wearing shoes with both kinds of heel.

Both types were on average 7cm high. The wide-heeled shoes were 4.5cm wide, and the narrow heels 1.2cm wide.

A particular kind of pressure, called varus torque, placed on the knee was measured.

It was found pressure increased by 26% with wide-heeled shoes and 22% with narrow heels, in comparison with measurements taken when the women were barefoot.

The increased pressure makes the quadriceps muscle in the thigh work harder, which in turn places more pressure on the kneecap.

Shoe advice

Dr Casey Kerrigan, who led the research, said: "We have shown that wide-heeled women's dress shoes cause the same, if not greater alterations in knee torques [pressures] as narrow-heeled shoes.

"We recommend wearing shoes with low or preferably no heels."

A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign said: "It's interesting that this study suggests that court shoes could be as harmful to women's health as stilettos.

"However, this research hasn't proved that these types of shoes cause osteoarthritis, and it's unlikely that women will suddenly all start wearing flat shoes or trainers all the time as a result.

"Osteoarthritis is a very complex disease, and we know there are lots of contributory factors.

"Wearing these shoes may or may not be one of them. After all, there must be millions of women out there who have worn high heels throughout their life who don't get osteoarthritis of the knee."

She said the reason additional numbers of women suffered from arthritis was probably because they lived longer than men, rather than because of the shoes they wore.

"To be on the safe side and to counter the likelihood of developing osteoarthritis women should remember three tips - wear trainers, walk to work and lose weight."

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See also:

06 Mar 01 | Health
Feet suffer for fashion
26 Mar 01 | Health
'Air-filled' trainer danger
08 Jun 99 | Health
Children's feet at risk
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