Posted on by Jo Wozniak

Using a sit-stand or stand-only desk? Make sure your workstation includes an anti-fatigue mat!

The arches of your feet are nature’s way of putting a spring in your step and cushioning against uneven ground but it’s not uncommon for people to experience problems with their feet, ankles and legs when standing too long on hard surfaces like concrete. People in certain profession are particularly at high risk, like chefs, retail, and manufacturing employees. And these days, due to the wide-spread use of sit-stand desks, the number of people at risk has increased dramatically.

I’ve been using an Ergotron, WorkFit-D sit stand desk for several years. My anti-fatigue mat gets a lot of use, because I spend the majority of the day standing and moving. When I want to sit down, I have to admit I don’t like the hassle of pushing the anti-fatigue mat out of the way so I can push my chair into place in front of my desk – but I do it nonetheless. As a certified ergonomic assessor, I know that this is an issue that others have encountered as well, so I thought I’d ask around to see what other people are doing.

Standing across from me is Denise, our senior graphic designer. Denise uses a perch-type stool. The beauty of this arrangement is that you can keep the perch on top of the mat because it is light-weight and doesn’t take up much space. To my surprise, Denise shared that she doesn’t use the mat because she wears shoes with sufficient support to protect her feet. Here’s what she told me:

I can use the “perch” at many different heights, depending on my fatigue level. I can lower it so it feels like a typical education-style stool, which I sometimes do late in the afternoon or after my 2.5-mile lunchtime walk. I can raise it very high so it almost feels like I am standing, allowing me to kind of rock back and forth, keeping my legs moving and engaged. That can cause strain in my lower back after a while, so I don’t continue in that posture for very long. At mid-level, there can also be some back strain, but not usually. That is the height I use most frequently. I can rotate the seat of the chair 360 degrees, which means not only are my legs moving but my spine and feet benefit from the extension. I like to do that when I am on a call and just listening, not working in my design software, which takes a lot of concentration.

It’s obvious that for Denise, standing at her desk does not mean standing still!  As she went on to explain, “It just does not feel like I am seated at all, and I love that. I love the inherent motion that the design almost teases out of my body.”

Collette, another long-time employee of Ergotron, also reported that she doesn’t use an anti-fatigue mat. At this point, I was feeling a little alarmed, but then, one thing I’ve learned about ergonomics, there’s no one perfect work style that fits everyone. So here’s what Collette had to say:

I really like to stand at work – it makes me feel more energetic and engaged.  However, I am not very good about standing still.  Moving doesn’t bother me, but standing still is uncomfortable after a while in my feet and lower legs.  So, I have taken to using a foot stool and alternate having a leg up, or I use a couple of different balance boards.  These allow me to move around when I’m at my desk for longer periods (acceptable fidgeting).  That movement is also what keeps my mind engaged and alert.

Looks like our long-time sit-stand users are finding ways to move that wouldn’t be possible if they were still sitting.

In particular, Collette mentions using a balance board, and I know several others at Ergotron who like to use them. On the other hand, some people, including me, developed plantar fasciitis using the balance boards, so it’s important to stop if you start to experience pain, and make sure you read the weight guidelines for any product you use (including chairs, by the way!). In some cases, the shape/height of your arch could make a solution difficult to use. And, when choosing an anti-fatigue mat, keep in mind the potential trip hazard if the ends start to curl and that a mat that is too soft can cause problems as well.

Like anti-fatigue mats, foot rests can also make the sit-stand experience more safe and comfortable. I like to use a hard foam core half-round. This allows me to take the weight of one leg to decrease fatigue.  Some people use IKEA stools, still others a couple of thick books or a 6-pack of soda.

What are you using at your desk? We’d love to hear from you – better yet – send a photo of your favorite ergonomic sit-stand accessory.

Carrie Schmitz - Ergotron