How Anti-Fatigue Mats Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders

How Anti-Fatigue Mats Prevent Musculoskeletal Disorders

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are the leading cause of absenteeism in manufacturing. Absenteeism hurts productivity and your bottom line. One of the leading contributors to the development of MSDs? Work environment.

In brief, the surfaces your people stand on are either contributing to the development of MSDs, and in turn absenteeism, or they’re elevating long-term health, safety, and availability. Below, we share two ways the right anti-fatigue mats prevent MSDs, and hear from two ergonomists on the relationship between MSDs and anti-fatigue mats

What is the Relationship Between Absenteeism and MSDs?
The absenteeism rate in manufacturing is 3.1%, nearly double what’s considered a healthy rate across all industries. This cost manufacturing companies $3 billion in 2022 alone.  

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, “MSDs are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time” (absenteeism). 

According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, there is a direct connection between work environment and the development of MSDs.

MSDs develop gradually over time and are injuries that impact muscles, tendons, nerves, cartilage, joints, and the spine. Common MSDs include:   

  • Arthritis   
  • Rotator cuff strains   
  • Tendonitis   
  • Sciatic nerve issues   
  • Plantar fasciitis   
  • Shin splints   
  • Neck/back pain
  • Inflammation/swelling  

The good news is: Work-related MSDs can be prevented. 

Andersen Windows replaced “rock hard” tiles with a custom mat made from pure nitrile rubber. Nitrile is renowned for it’s ergonomic support, as the material does not lose its cushion – ever. Nitrile softens the impact on joints and feet, and actively engages the muscles during long workdays through resilience and elasticity. All of which reduces MSD injury risks.

How are Safety Leaders Reducing MSD Injury Risks?
At AcroMat, as a custom anti-fatigue mat manufacturer, we're biased about the best solution. We've honed our mat materials and customization process over 15 years to make sure they prevent fatigue, discomfort, and injury.

But proactive ergonomic support can involve any number of solutions:

✅Rotating shifts
✅Orthopedic insoles
✅Anti-fatigue / ergo mats
✅Work table height assessments
✅Ergonomic inspections and workshops
✅Chiropractic care built into health plans
✅Mandatory pre- and post-shift stretching routines

There are countless ways to prevent MSDs. But, according to Alice Rector, Certified Athletic Trainer and Injury Prevention Specialist with Allegion, the key to preventing MSDs is "proactivity, prevention, and education" – teaching employees the tools and resources available to them, and educating leaders on the value of work environments that genuinely support their people.

Left: Gaps in coverage, exposed harsh flooring, flat mats after 2 years. Right: Custom AcroMat in use for 5+ years, fully intact. Uponor facility.

How Do Anti-fatigue Mats Reduce MSD Injuries?
Anti-fatigue mats play a critical role in improving work environment, especially for operators who stand for long hours each day. Here are two ways they have been proven to scientifically reduce fatigue and support the prevention of MSDs: 

1. Anti-fatigue mats reduce joint impact.  
Long hours on hard surfaces can cause neck, back, and leg pain. This increases tiredness, slows productivity, and can lead to longer-term injuries like MSDs.

Premium anti-fatigue mats like the AcroMat 100-1 Series, 100-ESD Series, and 100-Cleanroom Series are made from 5/8 in. thick 100% nitrile rubber. Unlike lower-quality mats made from PVC or a PVC-rubber blend, nitrile does not compress – maintaining its ergonomic support for the mat’s entire lifespan.

The 5/8 thickness, ergonomist-approved and determined over 15+ years of testing, has proven to be not too soft or too firm but rather ideal for a worker’s joints and muscles. 

Left: The PVC-nitrile blend mat has worn down, compressed, and eroded over just 2 years, losing all ergonomic benefit and non-slip support. Right: This 100% nitrile mat for Nokian Tyres will not lose its ergonomic qualities, ever.

2. Anti-fatigue mats improve circulation. 
When leg muscles are active, they promote healthy circulation and blood flow. Premium anti-fatigue mats work by activating leg muscles, which encourages subtle movement and changes in posture. Movement promotes oxygen and nutrient delivery by engaging muscles and keeping them warm. The ergonomists below offer additional insight.

Conversely, hard surfaces limit movement and cause stiffness, each of which reduce circulation and cause swelling and inflammation in the feet and legs. Over time, this gradually leads to soreness, pain, and can result in MSD injuries.

Ergonomist Mike Janak describes anti-fatigue mat "elasticity" as how a mat absorbs impact and returns energy to the foot. In effect, mats that are resilient reduce pain and fatigue. Mats that aren't resilient increase MSD injury risks. The video above shows how 100% nitrile immediately returns energy to the foot.

What Do Ergonomists Have to Say?
We reached out to two career-long ergonomists and asked: What role have you see anti-fatigue mats play in reducing fatigue and injury prevention? Here’s what they shared in response: 

Mary Plehal, OTR/L, Ergonomist, Occupational Therapist: 
“Quality anti-fatigue mats are a significant factor in overall workday tolerance and fatigue and MSD risk reduction. This is more important now than ever. With many employers having hiring challenges, they often turn to the use of extended shifts, 10-12 hours in duration. I coach employers to deploy key strategies to reduce the likelihood of unintended consequences of extended shifts. One of these strategies is to ensure standing surfaces have good anti-fatigue properties.

When mats are very worn and their anti-fatigue properties are diminished, and when employers purchase inferior products that don't provide adequate fatigue relief. This leads to discomfort, fatigue, and MSD injuries.

In my experience, AcroMat mats are the most highly rated by employees in terms of comfort. Once they gain a reputation in a plant, employees will request them specifically."

Made from 5/8 in. thick pure nitrile rubber, AcroMats are scientifically engineered to promote healthy blood flow, improve posture, and encourage healthy subtle movements that ease pressure on the feet, legs, back, and joints.

Jane Whalen Price, PT, DPT, Injury Prevention Consultant:
"Our process for addressing effective anti-fatigue mats began as a formal assessment of employee complaints of leg and back pain in specific areas of our plant. The initiative was driven by senior leadership who recognized that people are the key to the success of the product.

We researched and trialed various mats and were looking for a consistent solution to address timing of replacements and pricing for anti-fatigue mats. We trialed two specific densities (one soft model and one firm model). AcroMat was the selected provider, and their mats effectively addressed all back and leg complaints."

Summary: Invest In Your People
The number of reported MSDs are expected to double by 2025. What's the cost of an MSD?

❌Lost production / Absenteeism
❌Cost of interim replacement
❌Turnover / recruitment
❌Morale / Culture
❌Worker's comp.
❌Mental health

Importantly, 33% of all reported MSD cases are with workers under the age of 35. Roughly 50% of the manufacturing workforce is under the age of 40. This generation cares more about "health" than any thing else, including salary.

They want to go home safe and healthy. 

Prioritize the health and safety of your young and tenured people by evaluating the state of your anti-fatigue mats. Make sure your people have exactly what they need to ensure they get home from work as safe and healthy and when they arrived. This not only improves morale, recruitment and retention, but also absenteeism, productivity and your bottom line.


Preventing MSDs doesn't have to be complicated.

Get a free sample of an AcroMat anti-fatigue mat to test the support yourself. 

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