October 2011

Some individuals report less OA pain while wearing high heels than flats

In the moment: Knee OA

Knee osteoarthritis patients may not want to throw out their high-heeled shoes just yet. Research from Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit suggests that elevated heels are actually associated with pain relief in some patients with knee OA.

The findings are surprising in light of the growing body of scientific evidence suggesting that high heels increase the risk of knee osteoarthritis (see “Heels heighten OA risk”).

Investigators identified 63 patients (61 women and two men who wore cowboy boots) with knee OA who expressed a positive or negative preference for a higher-heeled shoe. Of those, 41 said they preferred high heels for pain relief. That subset was significantly older than the subset who preferred flat shoes.

Although the Detroit researchers did not analyze patients’ gait in this study, the  apparent positive effects of high heels could be related to gait changes that reduce knee loading, according to Fred Nelson, MD, director of the Osteoarthritis Center at Henry Ford, who presented his group’s findings in September at the OARSI congress. If so, those gait adaptations could be incorporated into OA rehabilitation, Nelson said.

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