Regular prolonged standing on hard floor surfaces can create pain and discomfort, and if ignored, can have long-term health implications. It can damage joints, cause swelling of the legs and lead to problems in the feet including bunions, corns, Achilles tendonitis and other orthopaedic conditions.
Standing affects our circulatory system which is responsible for moving blood throughout the body. It makes the heart work harder and puts increased pressure on the walls of the veins. Varicose veins and other similar venous disorders can have more dangerous consequences increasing the potential for heart attack and stroke.
As tiredness creeps in, joints such as the ankles and knees can tense up and become locked. There is a tendency to shift weight from one side to the other increasing the release of muscular energy which leads to physical fatigue. Regular prolonged standing in a static position can slowly diminish elasticity in the soft tissues (muscles ligaments and tendons in the back). This degenerative damage can lead too rheumatic diseases.
There has been much research over the years into reducing fatigue from standing and in particular into the benefits of certain types of floor coverings such as anti-fatigue matting.
What are work-related MSDs?
MSDs are usually put into two categories: Upper MSDs and Lower MSDs. To quote from information published by the European for Safety and Health at Work: “The World Health Organisation has defined a work-related disorder as one that results from a number of factors, and where the environment and the performance of the work contribute significantly, but in varying magnitude, to the causation of the disease. The term musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) denote health problems of the muscles, tendons, the skeleton, cartilage, the vascular system, ligaments and nerves.”
Circulation and The Venous System
We all know that our bodies should have healthy circulation but how is the blood circulated around the body?
Think of the heart as the central pump in the circulatory system. With each beat, the heart pumps the blood through the vessels which transport oxygen and nutrients to all tissues and arteries of the body. Oxygenated blood leaves the left side of the heart. The arteries carry the blood away from the heart and the veins return the blood back up to the heart. In order for the blood to be transported back, the venous return pumps the blood back to the heart. The main venous return pump is in the calf muscle. The foot also has many complex tiny veins. Veins in the legs have one-way valves to help blood flow back to the heart against the force of gravity. The blood pushes through the valves towards the heart and then the valve closes to prevent backward flow. With each step that we take when we walk, the foot and calf muscles contract which forces the blood up through the venous system against gravity back up to the right hand side of the heart.
That is why when we stand, we subject the walls of our veins to increased pressure which can cause long-term damage. When standing still, gravity makes fluid settle in the feet and legs which can create pooling and swelling. The heart has to increase its beat rate to compensate for this.
Research into venous pressure on a sample of workers found that the pressure when seated was 56mm, while the pressure for standing was 87mm. The pressure dropped to 21mm after taking around 10 steps concluding that walking for two to four minutes a day after every 15 minute period of standing was more comfortable than standing without walking (Konz S, Johnson S, Work Design 1-629, 2000).
How does Anti-Fatigue Matting help?
Anti-fatigue matting is more than just a comfortable standing surface. The cushioning helps to promote regular foot movement as the feet naturally adapt to the ‘flexible’ surface of the mat. The movement of muscles contracting and expanding is very subtle indeed, but is enough to help circulate blood towards the heart without expending so much energy as that experienced on a concrete floor.
Prolonged standing ultimately leads to pressure on the bony plantar (sole) of the feet which causes shifting of the weight. An anti-fatigue mat helps to reduce the concussion and distributes the pressure over a greater surface area. This reduces muscle activity and in turn fatigue.
Thermal comfort is another aspect of anti-fatigue matting as blood circulation is affected by extremes of temperature. Anti-fatigue mats protect operatives from cold concrete floors.
Anti-fatigue mats can reduce, and even prevent in some cases, the health risks associated with prolonged standing. For many standing jobs, anti-fatigue matting is a health and safety necessity, rather than a luxury.