An Iowa State University study has found repeatedly making a certain “fashion statement” can do some long-term damage.  

I.S.U. master’s student Danielle Barkema and the professor who heads  the kinesoiology department worked on the study, which found women may suffer long-term damage to their knees and other joints by standing and walking, day-after-day, in high-heels.

“My twin sister got a job in Chicago working in retail after she graduated from college.  She was doing some management on the floor there.  She was wearing high heels all day, pretty much all day, and she was complaining about the lack of comfort and what not,” Barkema says.  “She also noticed that a lot of the older women that she was working with who had been wearing heels for a period of years — all day, every day — were having problems:  various joint problems, foot problems, knee, hip — things like that.” 

Barkema’s study has found that wearing and walking in high heels can contribute to “joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis.”  The higher the heel, the greater the “loading” or pressure on the knee joint itself. 

Barkema, by the way, still owns high heeled shoes, but she doesn’t wear them all day, every day.  “I sort of try to limit myself to wearing (high heels) to once or twice a week — and for not very long periods of time,” Barkema says. “So I’m not saying to completely throw out all your high heels because they are sort of fun to wear every once in a while, but sort of limit yourself, if possible.”

Barkema and the head of I.S.U.’s kinesiology department will present part of their research about high heels at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics at Brown University the third week of August.  

Barkema’s research focused on how women walked in flat shoes compared to women wearing two-inch heels and women wearing three-and-a-half-inch heels.  She used sensors and other equipment to measure the forces the women were putting on their knee joints by walking in the heels.  She also measured the “shock wave” that travels up the body when the heel strikes the floor.  Barkema cautions she can’t say “with certainty” that wearing high heels causes joint problems, but she says women who routinely wear high heels are at greater risk for developing osteoarthritis in their joints.

Barkema, who is from Cedar Falls, is moving to Chicago this weekend — high heels in tow.