New research challenges long-held views about high heels and joint pain

New research has produced a surprising result, indicating high heel shoes may not be a problem for those with hip osteoarthritis.

The condition is a very common joint disorder, contributing to tremendous pain for many older people and significant disability.

Researchers from the Kolling Institute and the University of Sydney adopted an innovative approach, and evaluated the link between wearing shoes with higher heels and hip pain in those with symptomatic hip osteoarthritis. They also investigated whether the length of time in high heels influenced the pain.

Florance and Cope Chair of Rheumatology Professor David Hunter said it had been difficult in the past to measure the symptoms of hip osteoarthritis, with hip pain fluctuating so greatly and traditional research methods not able to adequately measure short-term risk factors.

“Our research team adopted a new approach, using an internet-based study of participants with hip osteoarthritis, and recruiting more than 250 people for the study,” Professor Hunter said.

PhD student Dr Kai Fu, who helped drive the research project, said we found more than 54 per cent of people had experienced pain in the last 90 days, and those who had worn heels over 2.5 centimetres high in the last day had lower levels of pain.

“In fact, they were 50 per cent less likely to have experienced pain,” he said.

“Perhaps surprisingly, those who had worn heels for more than six hours the previous day also reported lower levels of pain. This group was 70 per cent less likely to have had pain.

“These results suggest that heels up to 5 centimetres could be worn without increasing the risk of hip pain.

“The findings challenge long-held views that high heels exacerbate all musculoskeletal complaints, but we would like to see further research to clearly determine the ideal heel height before more definitive conclusions can be drawn.”