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By Cathy Zhu

A pair of 5-inch stilettos can add the finishing touch to any outfit. After all, aren't Louboutins and Manolos a girl's best friend? But strutters beware: The "mile-long legs" effect from high heels could cause long-term back, ankle, and knee damage (not to mention that aching feet thing).

Hell On Heels -- Why It Matters
According to Carrie Bradshaw, all women have the right to shoes. Carrie is also ignoring about 250 years of scientific inquiry into heels. Before getting into a brawl over a pair of Jimmy Choos, take note that wearing heels (even ones less than an inch high) can cause muscle strain and possibly even permanent damage among frequent wearers. Muscles and tendons are malleable tissues that change in response to stress. Wearing high heels every day can shorten calf muscles by up to 13 percent, causing lower leg stiffness and limiting the ankle's range of motion. Heels may give women a certain swish to their walk but that "je ne sais quoi" could cause some serious "dommage." Heels change a person's walking motion, increasing the amount of bone-on-bone forces in the knee which can lead to osteoarthritis.

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High-heeled shoes may also damage muscles and tissue around the knee joint, which can potentially result in painful osteoarthritis -- ouch!

Studies also suggest stilettos can cause back problems and exacerbate existing ones. Women who wear high heels on a daily basis are more likely to display poor posture, experience lower back pain, and suffer from prolonged muscle fatigue.

To Heel With It -- The Answer/Debate
Although it's tempting to slip on those pumps before a night on the town, the achy pain experienced after the first few struts is a tell-tale sign something is wrong. Instead of heels, rheumatologists suggest wearing flat, flexible shoes with good arch support to ease stress on knee joints and lower body muscles. If heels are an absolute must, it's best to wear them sparingly, since many of their biggest harms come via repetitive stress on the calves and knee joint.

Don't want to sacrifice fashion for health? Try trading heels for a cute pair of flats or non-heeled boots to wear to work or for a night out. Perhaps someone better get Lady Gaga on the telephone about her choice of footwear.

For more on personal health, click here.

Flickr photo by Buck Mulligan

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