Anyone who stands for prolonged periods of time in the same place can benefit from an anti-fatigue mat. Is the softest mat the right choice?
There are many ergonomic or anti-fatigue mats available. One of the primary features being advertised today is which one is the “softest” or “plushest?”
Softer is not better when it comes to reducing fatigue and injury. Mats which fall outside the optimal parameters for reducing fatigue may in fact increase fatigue and the likelihood of injury due to surface instability. Research shows that a standing surface which is too soft causes excessive body sway and lower extremity shifting, which increases lower extremity fatigue. This balancing act also improperly shifts the weight which may lead to misalignment health issues.
A dense rubber mat is less tiring than a soft mat and will provide better support. A foam mat which is too soft may look and feel nice at first, but users will be constantly balancing on the mat, similar to walking on sand. A bed mattress is very soft, but you would not want to stand on one all day. Some employees think that if one mat is good, then two mats would work even better! This is NOT the case. An extreme level of instability, caused by using multiple or overly soft mats, increases the risk of loss-of-balance in addition to having a negative effect on overall body posture.
Too much instability increases subtle muscular activity as the body works to maintain balance, accelerating fatigue levels. Fatigue-induced deterioration in postural stability and balance may lead to an increase in the risk of slips, falls and workplace accidents. In addition, too much instability can cause or exacerbate musculoskeletal conditions in the back, hips, knees, ankles and feet, and also may cause painful conditions like plantar fasciitis to be even more debilitating.
The best method is to try a few different mats and choose the best one for each location and job. This will depend on the area, the environment (wet/dry/slip resistant/anti-bacterial, etc.), and the type of tasks being performed other than standing. Optimally, mats have a tapered edge to prevent tripping hazards and are not located in traffic areas.
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