A Comprehensive Guide to Anti-Fatigue Matting Materials
Anti-fatigue matting is a great solution for providing employees, customs, and loved ones with added comfort and safety. And while some materials are better suited than others, a padded floor is an option for nearly any sort of environment—be it residential, commercial, and even industrial. Of course not all ergo mats (short for ergonomic) are created equal—some materials are simply better designed for heavy-duty applications while others are just woefully inadequate for providing true relief for pain and fatigue.
Now—how do you know if you need a cushioned mat? If you spend prolonged periods of time on your feet and have begun to notice pain in your feet, ankles, legs, knees, or back then chances are you’re not getting the adequate amount of support your body needs. Choosing to go without proper support can result in swollen feet and legs, knee problems, and even restricted blood flow which can go on to cause varicose veins. Realizing that you have a problem is the first step towards finding a solution. Once you’ve recognized what your problem is—hardwood, tile, stone, linoleum, or hard concrete floors—you can begin the to search for the best mat to fit your particular needs. This is where a more thorough understanding of types of materials that are available will help you make the best choice.
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Here is a comprehensive guide to some of the most commonly used anti-fatigue matting materials:
Carpet or Cloth
Although this matting type has been included in our list it is to better showcase the fact that it really isn’t a very good anti-fatigue option. It is a common misconception that the soft surface of carpet or cloth mats can actively work to reduce fatigue. While these materials are great for providing slip resistance in wet environments and can even keep your bare toes warm—the material itself isn’t very supportive. Unlike the elastic surface of a rubberized cushioned mat, carpet and cloth options don’t offer bounce or give, which is what helps combat fatigue. Instead, carpet and cloth, immediately flatten under the weight of a foot and simply does not offer the same dynamic force to support and cushion heels, joints and toes.
Foam in matting refers to a structure of material that has trapped pockets of air or gas providing a springy surface upon which to stand. Foam, when it comes to a padded floor, is available in one of two classifications depending on the pore structure.
- Open-Cell-Structure (or also known as reticulated foams)—The pores contained within an open-cell-structure are connected and therefore can create a network that provides a relatively soft surface. These cells will fill with whatever is around them, be it air or water (or anything else). They are noticeably softer or cushier.
- Closed-Cell—When it comes to pore structure, the opposite is true of closed-cell foams. The pores in this option are not interconnected and are therefore not susceptible to be filled by external elements. In general, this makes a closed-cell foam mat much denser, but also less permeable, and much stronger than the open-cell-structure.
To varying degrees, open and closed cell structures provide a mat that will feel like your standing or walking on air. Foam is the most commonly used type of mat when it comes to residential applications although, according to Chris Adams, from About.com, “they offer moderate support and moderate anti-fatigue [advantages].” Adam’s also goes on to say, “a denser foam (closed-cell) is better than a cushy foam (open-cell-structure), but even a thin, cushy mat can make a world of difference when standing on porcelain tile or concrete.”
Foam-type matting is available in a range of materials from rubber to vinyl.
Gel mats are made of a normally dense gel-like material that is encased in durable matting. They offer great pain relief—but can tend to be a little softer and therefore a less supportive. Gel-filled ergo mats also tend to be more expensive, although some would argue that they are worth the extra cost. However, they seem very ill fitted for heavy-duty applications such as use in warehouses or other industrial settings where a dropped item, sharp edge, or piece of machinery could pierce the mat.
According to the Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Vinyl, or polyvinyl chloride, or as its more commonly known PVC, is the world’s third most widely produced plastic. When it comes to anti-fatigue matting, PVC is considered an inexpensive and highly durable and resilient flooring option. Malleable, flexible, and supportive, closed-cell PVC foam mats offer great anti-fatigue qualities while also being very well suited for abrasive and harsh environments. Some PVC options are even grease and oil resistant, making them great flooring options for the kitchen.
Rubber is a high functional option when it comes to ergo mats. Naturally, the material is incredibly flexible and elastic making it the perfect supple and supportive surface for anti-fatigue matting. Craig Freudenrich, PH. D., explains that rubber “is a specific type of polymer called an elastomer: a large molecule that can be stretched to at least twice its original length and return to its original shape.” Also, due to a process called vulcanization, where virgin rubber is strengthened or synthetic options are created (with special chemicals that will offer the material new properties), rubber matting can be made into very soft or very hard surfacing. This is an important attribute—considering a softer cushioned mat is ideal for someone who remains stationary while standing, whereas a harder padded floor would be better suited for someone who stands but also walks and moves around.
Although there are a number of available materials to use in anti-fatigue applications, rubber ergo mats seem to be a clear contender for the most versatile matting option available. Available in individual mats, tiles, and even runners—creating a padded floor will not be difficult with rubber!