If you spend so much time cooking on your feet that you're starting to get aches and pains, then you may benefit from an anti-fatigue mat. Standing in one position for a prolonged period comes with several negative side effects, including foot pain, back pain, and lethargy, says Dr. Keith Overland, a chiropractor and past president of the American Chiropractic Association.
That's where anti-fatigue mats come in: While these pads, which typically come in a foam or rubberized material to provide support for your feet, are not a surefire cure for all that ails you, they can be part of a multi-pronged approach that will help you find relief fast.
Before you go buy one, here's what Overland says you should keep in mind.
1. There's a right and a wrong kind of mat.
Many people go to the store and ask for a floor mat for their kitchen ... only to have an employee promptly direct them to an anti-skid mat, says Overland. "You don't want to confuse the two," he adds. Whereas anti-skid mats are designed to prevent you from slipping, they don't typically have the cushioning that would make them effective as an anti-fatigue mat. Something else to look for: A lip at the edge that goes down to the floor so you won't trip over it.
2. The thickness matters.
You'll also want to check the texture and thickness of the mat. Avoid anything too thin or sponge-like, because that's not going to provide much in the way of support, says Overland. Instead, look for something about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick. "That's going to give you the support you need," says Overland. "I've seen rubber ones, vinyl, carpeting. I've seen ones that are made with air bubbles, some that claim to be special high-technology. But at least in my review, I have not seen that one is significantly better than the other. All of them are generally better than a cement or hardwood floor — something that has zero give and is purely harsh on the feet and on the legs."
3. But size is really up to you.
In terms of size, go for the biggest mat that will fit in the space you'll be working in. If you're forced to stand in a small space, it's perfectly fine to get a smaller anti-fatigue mat.
4. You're still gonna want some comfy shoes.
Overland says research suggests the best way to eliminate pain is to use anti-fatigue mats in conjunction with other tactics, the first being to wear the right shoes. "It's really important to have footwear that has supportive arches, support in the heel, and a cushioned bottom," he says. "You want it to have an absorbing, thick sole." Using inserts — even just ones you buy at the drugstore — and athletic socks can also help, he adds.
5. You shouldn't stand there all day.
Changing positions at least once every 90 minutes is also key — and shifting your weight from one foot to another doesn't count. "What you really want to do is change your body mechanics," says Overland. "So you want to go for a little bit of a walk, you want to sit. And it can be for a short period of time — it can be two to five minutes over a 90-minute period."
6. You can expect to see improvement in a couple of days.
If you've utilized all of the strategies above, you should experience relief pretty quickly. If you see some improvement but still have pain, you might have an ineffective mat, says Overland, who notes that a shorter warranty can be associated with a lower-quality product. (On a related note, if you notice the material in your mat breaking down or it helped you previously but is no longer as effective as it once was, it's time to replace your mat.)
Back and feet still hurting as badly as ever? You may have an underlying health condition that won't be improved by an anti-fatigue mat, says Overland.
"Some people get swollen feet or swollen legs, and that could be for any number of reasons, not just standing," he adds. "The most serious would be cardiovascular issues. Arthritis in the feet or knees would be another significant problem that would get aggravated from long-term standing and that you would want to address if you're getting a sharp pain in your foot or your knee that you've never had before."
See a doctor if you've tried an anti-fatigue mat, more supportive shoes, and increased activity and you're still experiencing pain.