Just ask any New Yorker who keeps a pair of sneakers in her bag for the walk to work: they’re way more comfortable than the more stylish, yet ankle-twisting high heels worn at the office.

But when it comes to knee and ankle trauma, walking in high heels is actually better than running in athletic shoes, according to a new study — and barefoot may be best of all.

Researchers observed the running motions of 68 active young adult runners, including 37 women, in treadmill and video studies. The team found that wearing athletic shoes caused excessive strain on hip, knee and ankle joints with 38 percent more ankle twisting than when running barefoot.

“Remarkably, the effect of running shoes on knee joint torques (twisting) during running that the authors observed here is even greater than the effect that was reported earlier of high-heeled shoes during walking," said study leader D. Casey Kerrigan of JKM Technologies LLC in Charlottesville, Va.

Strange-looking ‘barefoot’ shoes that do little more than protect the sole of the foot from rocks and hot pavement, like Vibram FiveFingers, have become more common among runners.

Tony Post, president of Vibram USA, explains that going shoeless allows the foot to flex, taking advantage of the natural shock-absorbing function of the arch.

“In a sense the arch is acting like a leaf spring,” Post told Wired Science.

And while Kerrigan certainly isn’t suggesting that runners should ditch their athletic shoes for high heels, she does advocate getting as close to barefoot as possible.

“Reducing joint torques with footwear completely, to that of barefoot running, while providing meaningful footwear functions, especially compliance, should be the goal of new footwear designs,” said Kerrigan.

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