Wearing high heels might make you feel sexy and powerful, but think about the future health consequences

If there’s one thing to be learned from “Sex and the City,” it’s that women love high heels. Sure, they might be painful to wear and challenging to walk in (for some of us, anyway), but as the saying goes, beauty is pain.

But blisters might not be the only downside to wearing high heels. In fact, the damage might be occurring higher up on the body – in the ankle, knee and hip, according to new research being presented later this month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics.

Another key finding: The higher the heel, the greater the risk.

The study was conducted by Danielle Barkema, a kinesiology student pursuing a master’s degree at Iowa State University (who admits to wearing high heels occassionally herself). She said she got the idea from her twin sister, who wears heels all day in her department store job and noticed that many of her older heel-wearing colleagues had problems with their knees and hips.

To test the consequences of wearing fancy footwear, Barkema recruited 15 women and asked them to strut around her laboratory on a special platform that measured the motion of their joints and the forces acting upon them. Sensors and motion cameras also documented the force and pressure in the women’s legs as they wore flats, 2-inch heels and 3.5-inch heels.

It turned out that their knees and ankles absorbed the most wear and tear. Higher heels increased the compression inside the knee, creating additional joint pain and strain, Barkema said in an interview.

Wearing heels also altered the women’s posture, forcing their ankles, knees and hips into unnatural positions that increased their risk for joint degeneration and osteoarthritis, she said.

Still, she emphasized that the take-home message of her study is not to eliminate heels from one’s wardrobe, but to limit their wear.

“It’s pretty difficult to tell your friends not to wear high heels,” she said. “Just try to limit yourself as much as possible and not wear them every single day.”

-- Jessie Schiewe