Can High Heels Cause Arthritis?

By

Bucciarelli, Alia

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Businesswoman walking up stairs in heels

Are your feet and knees aching? It might be time to toss your Jimmy Choos. Experts agree that high heels are medically unsound, bad for posture, and even pose a safety hazard. But can they cause or aggravate arthritis?

Arthritis and Your Feet and Knees

Several factors make the foot prone to arthritis. First, the feet are injured more often than any other body part. Second, they withstand a force equal to several hundred tons of pressure every day from walking. Third, they have a whopping 33 joints that can be affected.

To find out if sky-high shoes might cause arthritis, researchers analyzed their effects on the knees using 3-D gait analysis techniques. They found that stiletto high-heeled shoes (averaging 2.5 inches in height) exaggerate twisting forces in the knee joints during walking. This force, called torque, is thought to place the joints at risk for the development, progression, or both of knee osteoarthritis.

Experts think that high heels compromise foot and ankle kinetics so much that the knee must compensate to maintain stability and forward progression during walking.

Other studies that looked at different types of shoe heels found similar effects with wide-based heels and even "sensible" heels of just 1.5 inches.

Going Shoe Shopping?

If you have arthritis pain in the feet or knees when you walk, check in with a foot doctor, who can help you choose the right pair of shoes.

According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, the best shoe for women is a walking shoe with laces. Also, look for these attributes:

  • Polymerized composition soles

  • Rigid and padded heel counters, less than three-quarters of an inch in height

  • Relatively wider heels

When you go shopping, remember to bring your prescription orthotics, if you have them.

High-Heel Tips

If you can't give up these fashion essentials, follow these tips to minimize their effects:

  • Limit how long you wear them by switching to good quality sneakers or flats for part of the day.

  • Opt for "walking" pumps, which are fashionable while providing athletic shoe-like construction, reinforced heels, and wider toe room. 

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 10, 2017

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Medical References

  1. What Is Arthritis? American Podiatric Medical Association, 2011. http://www.apma.org/MainMenu/Foot-Health/Foot-Health-Brochures-category/Learn-About-Your-Feet/Arthri...
  2. Proper Footwear Can Reduce Foot Problems. American Podiatric Medical Association. 2011. http://www.apma.org/MainMenu/Foot-Health/Foot-Health-Brochures-category/Learn-About-Your-Feet/Footwe...
  3. Get Square with Your Feet. Arthritis Foundation. 2011. http://www.arthritis.org/foot-care.php
  4. Arthritis Advice. National Institute on Aging, U.S. National Institutes of Health. July 2009. http://www.nia.nih.gov/HealthInformation/Publications/arthritis.htm
  5. D.C. Kerrigan et al. Moderate-Heeled Shoes and Knee Joint Torques Relevant to the Development and Progression of Knee Osteoarthritis. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. May 2005, vol. 86, no. 5, pp. 871-5.