Iowa State University kinesiology master's student Danielle Barkema, left, and kinesiology professor and chair Phil Martin used sensors, accelerometers and lab equipment in their research on walking in high heels. Photo: Bob Elbert, ISU News Service

We allow our aestheticians to poke, prod and push on our pores. Eyebrows unruly? We pay people to pluck 'em. Need a cleavage boost or a slimmer thigh? Sure, we'll squeeze into shapewear that practically has us gasping for air. And we haven't even mentioned waxing, piercing and the wild world of plastic surgery.

Yep, beauty -- as they say -- is pain, and we're happy to suffer for style. But exactly how much are we suffering? We wanted to know just how much pressure a 2-inch heel puts on a woman's foot. It turns out, it's a lot.

According to Dr. Andrew Schneider, a podiatrist in Houston, heel height causes a shift in the amount of weight placed on the forefoot.

"A 1-inch heel will increase the pressure by 22 percent; a 2-inch heel by 57 percent; and a 3-inch heel by 76 percent," he writes. "This increased pressure puts the forefoot at risk for injuries such as stress fractures, bunions and hammertoes."

How attractive!

In a recent study for her thesis research, Danielle Barkema, an Iowa State University kinesiology master's student, found that prolonged wearing of and walking in high heels also can contribute to joint degeneration and knee osteoarthritis.

"By looking at a flat, mid-heel and high heel, we were able to establish that medial loading of the knee (compression on the inner portion of the knee) systematically increases with an increase in heel height," she tells StyleList. "This is important because it means that consistently wearing high heels, and especially higher heels, puts individuals at a greater risk to develop knee osteoarthritis later in life."

Barkema's study also found that wearing heels 2-inches and higher alters body posture by changing joint positions at the ankle, knee, hip and trunk, which can create strain on the lower back.

And a study from November, 2009, reported in the scientific journal of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society showed there is a significant increase in pressure on the metatarsal heads (the ends of the metatarsal bones that connect to the toes) with higher heels. The study's authors recommend women wear heel heights no greater than .8 inches.

Less than an inch? For the love of Carrie Bradshaw!

So, should women stop -- gasp! -- wearing high heels? Not necessary, Barkema says.

"I do wear heels myself and I'm certainly not (telling) women to throw out their high heels based upon this research," she tells StyleList. "I advise -- and personally try -- to stick to limiting my high heel-wearing as much as possible. I currently wear them once or twice a week. ... Basically, try to limit yourself as much as possible and really try to avoid wearing high heels all day, every day."

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