Do Anti-Fatigue Mats Work?

Do Anti-Fatigue Mats Work?

Nitrile anti-fatigue mats reduce lower back pain by as much as 50% compared to hard surfaces. They work by keeping your muscles engaged, promoting healthy blood flow, and helping your body share the load which reduces overexertion.  

That's the short answer. The complete answer to this question – do anti-fatigue mats work? – is much more than a simple statistic. To understand if mats do in fact work, it’s important to look closely at how they work.

6 ways anti-fatigue mats work: 

1. Anti-fatigue mats reduce pain and discomfort by 50%
MSDs are the leading cause of disability worldwide. Dr. Andrew Laing with the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of MSDs (CRE-MSD) has spent years exploring the development of MSDs and whether anti-fatigue mats can help prevent them.

He presented recent findings during a March 2024 webinar – Anti-Fatigue Mats and Their Relationship to MSD Prevention – hosted by CRE-MSD.

To understand if and how anti-fatigue mats reduce pain and discomfort, Dr. Andrew's team had 16 individuals over two days stand on hard surfaces (RIGID) for 60 minutes, followed by standing on a nitrile anti-fatigue mat (AFM) for 60 minutes. They looked closely at three key areas: body posture, body movement, and pain or discomfort.  

Screenshot from webinar showing how Dr. Andrew measured posture, body movement and discomfort. Of note, pure 100% nitrile is what we use to make our mats here at AcroMat.

Eight of the individuals were considered “pain developers” (PDs) – meaning they become physically uncomfortable in less than 60 minutes standing. The other eight were “non-pain developers (NPDs)” – meaning they can comfortably stand for 60 minutes.

The eight pain developers experienced a 50% reduction in lower back pain and physical discomfort standing on the nitrile mat (AFM) compared to the hard surface (RIGID).

Screenshot from webinar showing the 50% decrease in lower back pain for pain developers. "Those pre-disposed to pain experienced significant relief when standing on the AFM compared to RIGID floor,” shared Dr. Andrew.

According to Dr. Andrew's research, roughly 30-50% of the world's population are pain developers and would benefit from using anti-fatigue mats over hard surfaces.

2. Anti-fatigue mats prevent static positions
Specific to standing workers, MSD injuries often develop when we're in a static position for an extended period. When static, the same muscle tissues are loaded, there is a pooling of fluid in our lower limbs along with a build-up of metabolic waste, and each of these collectively contribute to the development of pain in our muscles and joints.

Prolonged pain leads to the development of actual MSD injuries.

Unlike hard surfaces, anti-fatigue mats intentionally create subtle instabilities. These slight movements help our bodies share tissue loading between muscles, force our muscles to remain engaged to keep us balanced, and create consistent muscle pumps.

In summary, 4 ways anti-fatigue mats work to prevent static standing:

  • Anti-fatigue mats decrease static positioning by consistently, though subtly, activating the muscles  reducing risks of locked limbs and stiffness.

  • Anti-fatigue mats prevent the same muscle tissues from being loaded, reducing the risk of overexertion in any one area. Stated more simply, they help your body "share the load."

  • Anti-fatigue mats prevent pooling of fluids in our lower limbs and encourage healthy blood flow to/from the heart, reducing the risk of painful varicose veins and similar issues.

  • Anti-fatigue mats decrease the buildup of metabolic waste, reducing risks of pain, discomfort and ultimately recordable MSD injuries.

Anti-fatigue mats soften joint impact, keep our muscles warm and engaged, and encourage healthy blood flow – all of which reduce the risk of MSD injuries.

3. Anti-fatigue mats don't make you less tired
Anti-fatigue mats don’t actually make you less fatigued; we all get tired when working on our feet for hours at a time regardless of what's beneath our feet. However, as described in more detail above, they do reduce pain and discomfort which in turn helps prevent injury.

Proven ergonomic support keeps you healthier, stronger, and more physically and mentally available at work and home. This is where "anti-fatigue" is derived from.

4. Anti-fatigue mats that are too soft can reduce balance
Have you noticed when standing how our bodies naturally sway? This is our center of mass (COM) moving back and forth. The center of pressure (COP), under our feet, are the forces that come from the ground into our body. We use the COP to try and control COM, which keep us upright and balanced.

In brief, our bodies are always working to keep us balanced. The right anti-fatigue mat materials complement and encourage this natural sway by keeping your body active and engaged.

However, if you introduce an anti-fatigue mat that is too soft, too thick, or if you're stacking your mats, they can work against your ability to remain balanced – increasing the rate of fatigue in addition to slip, trip, and fall risks.

Before making any major investments, look closely at the durometer rating or shore hardness of the mats you're considering and test samples with your team over weeks or even months.

Stacking your anti-fatigue mats can increase "postural instability similar to standing in high heels for hours" and increase the risk of rolled ankles, says Ergonomist Mary Plehal. 

Related: 3 Hidden Dangers of Stacking Your Anti-Fatigue Mats

5. Anti-fatigue mats reduce impact injuries by 70%
Anti-fatigue mats offer more than just ergonomic support; they reduce impact injury risks compared to falling on hard surfaces like cement, wood and metal. According to CRE-MSD research highlighted in the webinar:

  • Falling on a nitrile anti-fatigue mat reduces hip impact by up to 50%.
  • Falling on a nitrile anti-fatigue mat reduces head impact by up to 70%.

This is one reason why, here at AcroMat, a custom anti-fatigue mat manufacturer, "custom" means any shape and size and why we often cover entire workstations with one-piece designs; custom mats cushion every step while also softening fall impact.

This 2,000+ sq. ft. nitrile anti-fatigue covers an entire workspace at Andersen Windows, providing ergonomic support throughout the cell while also reducing impact injury risks. 

In a wet area, which can increase slipping risks, Medtronic covered the entire space with ergonomic support, slip resistance, and cushion to reduce impact injury risks.

6. Anti-fatigue mats appear to be more effective than insoles
Dr. Andrew's team found "moderate" evidence that anti-fatigue mats help reduce pain, especially for the 30-50% of people worldwide who are prone to discomfort when standing for short periods of time.

Comparatively, his team found “very limited” evidence insoles do the same, saying the jury is still out on the effectiveness of insoles. In fact, Dr. Andrew noted how “impacting the geometry of the shoe” – e.g., raising the foot too from from the shoe with an insole – may increase the risk of slips, trips and falls because you’re less in control of your balance.

You can watch the 45-minute webinar playback (plus 15-minute Q&A) on the CRE-MSD YouTube channel linked above, or the embedded version here:

Conclusion: Ask, listen, and document
True value from anti-fatigue mats is unique to the individual, their health history and body composition. If considering anti-fatigue mats, it’s critical to find the right size, shape and material for you/your people rather than leaning on broad claims.

There are a few simple steps you can take to get started:

  1. Talk to your people and watch them work. Ask questions like: What are your pain levels at the end of a shift compared to the beginning? What would you change about your current mat? Are you constantly stepping on/off your mat or standing on the edges?

  2. Get free sample mats and put them to the test in your production environment, for weeks or months at a time. Make sure they have the durability you need to last without sinking or flattening. Ask an ergonomist or physical therapist for insight into softness/firmness.

  3. Review your anti-fatigue mat warranties. Look closely at the fine print and be 100% certain of what they are actually protecting you from. Be weary of “limited” and “lifetime limited” warranties. Make sure they protect against issues like compression and flattening.


You can find additional research from Dr. Andrew Laing and his team in this study: 

Anti-fatigue mats can reduce low back discomfort in transient pain developers

Interested in comparing AcroMat's 100% nitrile mats to what you're currently using?

Put a free sample to the test:

Get a free sample mat

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