Women in heels totter towards an arthritic future

WOMEN who wear high-heeled shoes risk tottering all the way to the rheumatology clinic, writes Jeremy Laurance.

Doctors who measured the stresses imposed on the ankles, knees and thighs of women wearing heels found that they may be able to explain why arthritis of the knee is twice as common in women as in men.

The finding is likely to increase the view that heels are for display, not for locomotion. Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, asked 20 women with an average age of 36 to walk along a platform fitted with sensors and cameras recording the movement of their ankle and knee joints. The women walked in bare feet and then in heels two-and-a-half inches high. The results showed that walking in high heels imposed, on average, a 23 per cent greater strain between the kneecap and the thigh bone and on the inner side of the knee joint than when walking barefoot.

Writing in the Lancet, the researchers say that wearing high heels alters the function of the ankle which is compensated for by increased torque at the knee rather than at the hip. Animal experiments show that increasing pressure at the knee leads to degenerative changes in the joint.

They conclude: "Our findings suggest that further investigations are needed to evaluate a causal relationship."