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Flooring and Physical Therapy. Does it Matter?

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AUTHOR: Mark Huxta, Director of Sales, Health & Wellness

Be it yourself or a loved one, almost everyone has had some sort of experience with Physical Therapy (PT) during their life. 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.  

When PT is prescribed after an injury has been incurred or a surgery was performed, 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. 

In addition to a compromised body, another PT concern is patient confidence. If a patient does not have confidence in the PT process, the experience can have a negative impact on the patient experience and outcome.  

A third PT concern that many people might not think about is the PT environment itself, which can also have a direct affect on patient outcome. The most important thing to consider in a PT environment is the healthcare flooring since this is where PT activities are performed. If the floor in a PT space is too hard or slippery, the person performing activities on it could have additional pain and/or it could be dangerous for them.
Physical therapist helping a man with his leg

It’s imperative that doctors and nurses explain the benefits and 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 flooring solution for their therapy center.

An ergonomic floor is important, because it can effectively support and enhance the PT experience for the patient and the therapist. A crucial thing to consider here 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.
Foot impact and force reduction. As the foot impacts the surface it deflects, absorbing energy
Energy restitution. Stored energy is released into the athlete moving forward.
An anti-fatigue floor, on the other hand, does not provide these benefits, although it can be marketed as providing an ergonomic solution. Furthermore, the phrase “anti-fatigue floor” is often confused with a soft, “comfort” floor. Examples of an 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. When an anti-fatigue floor is specified, 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 it does not create discomfort or pain on the legs or torso, standing on an anti-fatigue floor is far more tiring. In conclusion if a surface is too soft, it poses very significant ergonomic issues.

Circling back to our PT discussion, a person who is using a soft surface, who 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.

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
•    Fully focused on the feedback and interaction with the patient.
Physical therapist helping a patient walk
The connection between a patient and a physical therapist is critical to the having optimal sessions and a successful outcome. As a result, physical therapists should have optimal working conditions as well, which can be improved with the right floor. 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 are many PT floors on the market. Be sure to select one that support joints, reduces impact, and absorbs shock. In addition to these benefits, a floor that reduces sound to create a quieter healing space will help allow 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. Here are two examples of ideal PT floors that use Ecore’s patented itsTRU™ technology:

Example of the Forest RX floor in a workout studio
Forest Rx features high-quality wood visuals on a heterogeneous vinyl surface layer that is fusion bonded to a 5mm vulcanized composition rubber (VCR) backing. The result is a dynamic surface that looks like real wood but reduces the risk of injury associated with falls and also offers sound control and comfort.

Example of the ECOFit floor in a gym.
ECOfit is designed for bodies in motion. This 8.2mm VCR commercial rubber floor is comprised of a 3.2mm surface layer fusion bonded to a 5mm backing. The result is a beautiful surface, available in more than 10 colors, that provides enhanced performance while mitigating fatigue and the risk of injury. 

For more information about things to consider in order to select the right PT floor, visit the PT/OT page of the Ecore Commercial website.