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The Science of Anti-Fatigue Matting

How an anti-fatigue mat works is well described in an article that was published in the April 1999 issue of “Occupational Health & Safety”, written by James M. Kendrick:

“Anti-fatigue mats are engineered to make the body naturally and imperceptibly sway, which encourages subtle movement by calf and leg muscles. This promotes blood flow and keeps it from stagnating in the veins, which causes workers to feel fatigued.”

Standing on hard surfaces for long periods can lead to several problems. First, standing causes muscles to constrict, which reduces the blood flow. This makes muscles and joints hurt, and it causes blood to stagnate. In addition, long-term standing causes pronation or excessive flattening of the foot. While this can be simply tiring and a bit painful, it can also lead to plantar fasciitis and other serious foot conditions. Lower back pain is highest in workers who stand 4 hours or more per day.

As noted by Mr. Kendrick, the cushioning effect of anti-fatigue matting allows continuous micro-movements of the feet, which minimizes blood pooling in the legs. Too much cushioning can have a negative effect. Too great an amount of softness or “give” will actually cause excessive fatigue because it overworks the muscles. Think of it like jogging on the beach as an extreme example of this concept.

Standing at Work

In many industries, employees are required to work while standing, walking, and/or carrying loads. Lower extremity discomfort and fatigue from forced long-term standing and walking is a problem often identified but seldom documented. Early studies such as Morgora (1972) showed that the incidence of low back pain was highest in those workers who stood regularly every working day for periods of more than four hours and Bousseman et al. (1982) brought to light that long term standing is a direct cause of pain and discomfort.

Subsequent research carried by Dr. Mark Redfern and Dr. Don Chaffin at the Center for Ergonomics, the University of Michigan in 1988, and Paula Hinnen and Stephan Konz at the Department of Industrial Engineering, Kansas State University, 1994, made observations of the difference between standing on hard floors versus standing on soft floors. Both their studies concluded that mats significantly affect fatigue and comfort in different body regions.

New Research

A recent study conducted by Prof. Dr. Redha Taiar (2011) an expert in biomechanical, human locomotion, kinematic and kinetic analysis, and biomedical technologies at the University of Reims in France showed how human mechanics in a working environment are impacted through the use of anti-fatigue mats.

Studying the upright position of the human body, the adjusting of its segments to maintain its balance, and diminishing muscular problems are the main elements to highlight in order to improve the every day (working) life of users.

By observing workers and measuring foot pressure for employees standing for long periods, Prof. Taiar was able to identify two causes of fatigue and therefore a two-pronged approach in combating the muscular-skeletal disorders associated with long-term standing.

Download Standing Smart by Profession Redha Taiar.pdf

One cause of fatigue: the Cinderella Fibres

The consequences of long-term standing on a muscular-skeletal level begin with training muscles. For the human body to remain in an upright position, namely standing, we have trained our muscles in what becomes an automatic system. Basically, this posture state (upright) is engrained in our neuromuscular program, and each time we use the same muscles to do the work, without us being conscience about this. This ‘automated’ muscular functioning is recorded in the brain and will be systematically applied.

The muscular fibres involved in this programming are also called « Cinderella fibres », because even if they are tired they do their job …that’s the start of muscular-skeletal troubles (pain, contractures, tendinitis…).

Another cause of fatigue: Imbalance

In addition to overuse of the same muscles, when the system is out of balance, the muscles must work harder to search for balance and the quick reaction speed is maintained at the cost of energy (fatigue).

So to maintain an upright position it is necessary to have a well-adapted postural balance to decrease pathologies and their consequences in the everyday work of the users. In a nutshell, to regain balance ‘quick reaction /energy saving/ effectiveness’ it is necessary to become aware of the different foot pressures on the ground and the most proper muscle action (from head to toe).

Conclusion: Without a mat, there is an imbalance

He emphasized that “without a mat there is a dysfunction in the balance of a person which can cause pathologies that are accelerated by a repetitive task and other constraining work”. Such unbalance is very harmful for the human body. The use of anti-fatigue mats enables correct balancing and a uniform distribution between the right and left leg. Prof. Taiar’s findings confirmed that pains are substantially reduced with the use of anti-fatigue mats compared to the initial situation without mats.

Two-part solution to fight fatigue

Taiar, therefore, recommends a two-part approach in reducing fatigue.

Firstly, the worker must initiate a variation in foot pressure to improve the upright standing position. This top-down approach helps to eliminate the build-up of pressure points on the feet (Cinderella fibres). To achieve this, his advice to workers is to regularly change the pressure point inside the shoe.

Secondly, by using anti-fatigue mats made from the latest technological materials. This bottom-up approach helps to eliminate pressure points from the floor by spreading weight evenly. The use of anti-fatigue mats correct balance and restore uniform distribution between the right and left leg.

The unique composition of anti-fatigue matting is an ergonomic pattern and a cushioning underlay that evenly distributes weight and stimulates continuous micro-movements of the feet minimizing blood pooling in the legs. Prof. Taiar’s findings confirmed that pains are substantially reduced with the use of anti-fatigue mats compared to the initial situation without mats.

Workers agree

Feedback from employees was also used to support the research using observations from workers who compared working on anti-fatigue mats to working on the hard floor and noting their level of comfort and fatigue every hour during eight-hour shifts. One worker commented: “Less fatigue in the legs at the end of the day and less muscular and articular troubles, better absorption of weight.”

The ROI of Anti-Fatigue Matting

Installing anti-fatigue and safety matting is an investment in people. There is also good reason to believe that reduction of fatigue also reduces the occurrence of accidents and improves general work efficiency. This may also go hand-in-hand with the desire to reduce slips and falls. There are fewer days lost to injuries, fewer medical claims, and compliance with new health and safety requirements.

Notrax® floor mats are made of specific formulations and designs that provide fatigue relief which will contribute to increased productivity and employee satisfaction.