Medically Reviewed by Eric Heimberger, MD
All eyes turned as Donna walked in. Her face was beautiful. The silhouette, striking. And those high spike heels! Whew! Every man – and a few women – inhaled sharply, losing interest in their year-old magazines. Donna smiled sweetly, knowing that she was causing a ruckus – and thinking to herself, If only my knees didn’t hurt so much. Well, maybe when the nurse calls my name, the orthopedic specialist can tell me what the problem is. “A number of studies have shown the increased risk from high heels of developing osteoarthritis in your knees,” says McLeod Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Eric Heimberger. “The knee joint deteriorates, possibly leading to total joint replacement.”
HIGH HEELS – MORE THAN YOUR TOES CAN HURT
When high heels hit the ground, they send a shock wave up through the leg to the knee and up to the hip. The higher the heel, the greater the shock and compression on the knee. High heels put as much as 26% more strain on the knee than a flat shoe. This is one reason that osteoarthritis of the knee (a primary cause of total joint replacement) is twice as common among women as in men.
CLOGS, ALSO HURTFUL
Many people have taken to wearing clogs, possibly thinking this footwear is more healthful because it’s all rubber or less restrictive than high heels. Not so.
Studies show that clogs also increase the loading on knee joints – up to 15% more – compared with shoes that have flatter heels and more flexibility.
This popular footwear actually may offer some benefit to people already suffering from knee osteoarthritis. Walking barefoot offers the least stress. Flip-flops seem to be the next best thing to walking barefoot and equal to wearing a flat, flexible walking shoe.
Be aware that especially among older folks, the flip-flop presents a tripping hazard.
Those shoes, have the toe-like glove fingers, are preferred by some runners. Be careful – especially if you already are suffering from osteoarthritis. Foot gloves don’t offer as much shock-absorbing material as a regular shoe when the foot hits hard pavement.
Obviously, women won’t completely stop wearing high heels. For some women, the heels are part of their professional wardrobe. So, at least consider wearing heels no higher than 2 inches. Or alternate heels with flats during the workweek. And think about some strength training for your lower body.
Are your shoes creating muscle strain or pain in your knees and hips? See an orthopedic specialist for a diagnosis and treatment options.
Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, American Society of Biomechanics, Arthritis Foundation, OnHealth, Arthritis Care & Research, The Lancet