The Impact of Flooring on Physical Therapy
By Mark Huxta
Be it yourself or a loved one, almost everyone will have an experience with physical therapy (PT) during their lifetime. It’s usually required as the result of an accident, injury or chronic pain, and the person seeking therapy wants to become stronger or get better. Typical PT objectives include the ability to improve mobility, reduce or manage pain, restore function and prevent disability or injury.
Physical Therapy Concerns
When PT is prescribed after an injury or surgery it’s because the body has been compromised to some extent. A compromised body is much more susceptible to environmental influencers, which are conditions that might create physical discomfort, fatigue or affect balance.
Another PT concern is patient confidence. If a patient does not have confidence in the PT process, it can have a negative impact on the experience and outcome.
A further concern is the PT environment itself, which can also have a direct impact on patient outcome. A critical but regularly overlooked component in a PT environment is the flooring. PT activities occur on or above the floor, often in direct contact with the patient. If the floor in a PT space is too hard or slippery, the person performing activities on it could have additional pain and/or a slip and fall that could lead to further injury.
It’s imperative that doctors and nurses explain the positive outcomes related to PT and how these benefits can help patients to live better lives. In addition, it’s important for PT providers to specify an ergonomic, patient-friendly flooring solution for their therapy centre.
Ergonomic and Anti-fatigue Flooring
An ergonomic floor can effectively support and enhance the PT experience for the patient and therapist. A crucial consideration is the differences between an ergonomic floor and comfort flooring. An ergonomic floor strikes a balance between two measurable variables: force reduction and energy restitution. When these two dynamic forces approach balance, ergonomic performance improves.
An anti-fatigue floor, on the other hand, does not provide these benefits, although it can be marketed as providing an ergonomic solution. Further, the phrase ‘anti-fatigue floor’ is often confused with a soft, ‘comfort’ floor. Examples of anti-fatigue flooring are comfort mats, which are used in retail applications or in front of sinks in restaurants and home kitchens. Although the subjective feel of these floor mats may reflect comfort, they do not provide anti-fatigue properties. With these products, the body must work harder to maintain balance and must account for the lack of positive energy restitution from the floor. A similar correlation can be drawn if you think of a person running in sand. Although far less painful than running on concrete, running in sand is far more tiring. So, if a surface is too soft, it poses very significant ergonomic issues.
Circling back to PT, a person using a soft surface that currently has a comprised body may experience posture and mobility issues. A soft floor can exacerbate a patient’s imbalance, which can result in a change in gait, cause a fall or simply diminish a patient’s confidence.
Right Physical Therapist
With a focus on recovery, it’s best not to subject a patient’s body to an environment or clinic flooring that does not support therapy, let alone could potentially create stress, strain or discomfort on the body.
As such, patients should take care to select the right physical therapist for them. A dedicated physical therapist will be wholly committed to the patient and fully focused on the feedback and interaction with the patient.
The connection between a patient and physical therapist is critical to having a successful outcome. As a result, physical therapists should have optimal working conditions as well, and an ergonomic floor can contribute to the therapist’s focus, stamina and attitude during the day. With extended hours and constant movement, therapists are using floors all day long that can either contribute to a productive workday, or create a distraction or even discomfort that, in turn, detracts from their care. Because the floor can either contribute to or inhibit a patient’s experience and outcomes as well as the well-being of the therapist, the floor does indeed matter.
There’s More to the Floor
There are many PT floors on the market. Be sure to select one that supports joints, reduces impact and absorbs shock. In addition to these benefits, a floor that lessens sound to create a quieter healing space will enable patients to focus on reaching their therapy goals. Enhanced acoustics will also support a patient’s right to privacy. With these benefits in mind, an engineered surface is ideal.
Mark Huxta is director of sales, health and wellness, for Ecore, a company that transforms reclaimed waste into performance flooring surfaces that perform well beyond industry standards. Ecore’s products align substantial force reduction with a balanced amount of energy return to create surfaces to meet virtually every commercial flooring application needed.