Ergonomics in the office is not only due to an ergonomic office chair, a height-adjustable table or the ergonomic arrangement of equipment on the desk, but also an ergonomic footrest. While not all people in the office or home office need a footrest, it does contribute significantly to an optimally furnished workplace. I explain in this blog when and why an ergonomic footrest is necessary, and what features should be looked for in order to adopt the correct office posture.
Who needs a footrest in the office?
Although an office chair may already be adjustable in various ways, it is not a given that it can actually achieve the proper desk ergonomics. Short people especially often must assume a sitting position in an office chair and with a desk that is not ergonomically correct which can lead to health problems. This happens when the feet do not rest flat on the floor while sitting, but dangle freely in the air. The cause of this can either be the office chair, which cannot be adjusted low enough causing the person to sit too high; or it can be due to the desk, which if not height adjustable causes the person to align the seat height to the desk. An ergonomic footrest provides a great service in enabling short people to sit ergonomically correct.
Function of a footrest
A footrest compensates for the height of the office chair or desk in placing the soles of the feet on the floor. For a correct office posture, the feet should always be in contact with the floor and lie flat. The footrest thus guarantees ergonomic sitting, in which the thighs should be horizontal or slightly elevated from the knees to the pelvis, and the lower legs should form a downward angle of about 90° or slightly greater. For proper desk ergonomics, it is not enough for only the tips of the toes to touch the floor, the soles of the feet must be fully supported. The footrest guarantees good support for the soles of the feet, so that the legs do not hang in the air.
If the legs are not in contact with the floor and hang down freely, a blood circulation problem may occur. Especially, the blood circulation at the thighs and in the back of the knee is affected which can lead to thrombosis and varicose veins. The first symptom is a tingling in the blood vessels, which indicates that the legs have fallen asleep. An ergonomic footrest can quickly remedy this situation and restore ground contact in an ergonomically correct manner.
Correct office posture with a footrest
Correct posture while working in the office is crucial for health and should always be secured for all people, both small and large. How to sit ergonomically correct and the dangers of poor ergonomic sitting, I have explained in detail in this blog: “What are the most common ergonomic risk factors at the office workplace or home office?”. To summarize, you should sit on the office chair in such a way that you do not feel any circulatory problems in the legs and that the soles of your feet are in contact with the floor.
The height of the desk also has a major influence on proper desk ergonomics. The ergonomic table height is explained in detail in the blog “Does an ergonomic standing desk really offer me advantages?”. In a nutshell, to sit ergonomically correct you should sit at the desk so that your feet are always in contact with the floor or the footrest.
Different designs of footrests
There are footrests made of different materials, with or without options and some with even additional ergonomically interesting features. Here is an overview of the most common designs from simple to most ergonomic footrests.
Fixed and adjustable footrest
Fixed footrests are less common, which is understandable from an ergonomic point of view, as each person has a different body type and thus adjusting the footrest both in height and angle would be desirable. With most fixed footrests, a slight angle of inclination is usually specified, which makes sense so that the feet can rest comfortably.
With adjustable ergonomic footrests, the angle of inclination can almost always be adjusted, and often the height can be adjusted at the same time, whereas in others only the height. Both are useful to guarantee an ergonomically correct support for the feet. It is important that the entire sole of the footrests on the support and not just a part of the foot.
Some footrests have a semicircular top, which automatically enables the desired angle of inclination to be selectable for the soles of the feet. Often, such footrests can be turned around so that the semicircular piece offers a rocking option, and the soles of the feet rest on the flat side. This allows dynamic movement of the feet, which on the one hand can take some getting used to, but on the other hand promotes blood circulation in the legs due to the small rocking movements. However, with such footrests, the height is usually not adjustable, and can be a limiting factor for particularly short people.
Footrest with additional leg rest
There are also luxurious ergonomic footrests that offer two functions at once. One feature provides classic support for the soles of the feet, with the adjustment of the angle and height. Another feature of such footrests is a kind of bracket which is much higher than the footrest itself and has a padding all around at the top. This padded part serves as a support for the leg; more precisely, for the lower part of the calf. This allows the leg to be comfortably placed in the stirrup in between uses, inducing relaxation due to this change in position. It is ideal for changing the position of the legs and to elicit more sitting dynamic.
Footrest made of hard materials
In hard materials, you find mainly footrests made of plastic usually in combination with metal. There are also footrests made of wood. With hard materials, maintenance is relatively simple, as the dirty areas can be easily cleaned. The disadvantage here may be the fragility of plastic or if the footrest is to be used without shoes. In that case, a footrest covered with fabric or made entirely of foam would make more sense.
Footrest made of soft material
In the case of soft materials, there are footrests made directly from foam or molded foam while others have an outer material made of various types of fabrics or imitation leather, and the filling, in addition to the foam materials is also composed of spelt husk (husk of cereal grains). To ensure that the correct outer material is used, it is important to consider whether the ergonomic footrest is used with or without shoes,
Inflatable footrests are also available, which are particularly suitable as supports to take with you to use, for example, when traveling or on an airplane. In the office or home office, however, such footrests are not an optimal solution.
Finally, there are hammock footrests, which are attached to the desk with a metal clamp, causing the feet to lie as in a small hammock. From an ergonomic point of view, this doesn’t make much sense to me, since the feet constantly slide to the lowest point in the hammock, creating pressure on both feet.
Footrest with additional functions
Some footrests feature rounded nubs on the surface of the footrest that create a massage function when you lightly run the sole of your foot over them. Others have rubber pegs that create a kind of reflexology massage by moving the feet.
There are also ergonomic footrests with an integrated heater, which can be an advantage for people with cold feet, although the heater should not be left on for too long as there could be problems with the veins.
Special footrests can also be used with standing desks, but these serve more to relieve the strain on one leg at a time. However, this constantly alternating from one leg to the other creates regular dynamic movement when standing.
Footrest for gamers?
For gamers who are not really short and therefore don’t actually need a footrest, there is a footrest that looks like a small stool. This is suitable for temporary relief of one or both legs. This footrest was developed because gamers more often lie in the office chair rather than sitting and find such a support comfortable, which can be ergonomically correct if the lower back is well supported at the same time.
Pros and cons of footrests
With the large variety of ergonomic footrests, the choice is often somewhat difficult. Here is a summary of the pros and cons of footrests.
Advantages of footrests
- A footrest helps short people gain good contact with the floor, and thus achieve an ergonomic table height.
- By adjusting the angle of inclination, a comfortable position can be found, which can even be changed during the day.
- With the height adjustment function, the footrest can be adjusted to the ergonomically correct height.
- Moving or round support surfaces promote dynamic support of the feet.
- Massage nubs stimulate blood circulation.
- Footrests made of soft material can ideally be used without shoes.
Disadvantages of footrests
- Some footrests consist of two parts, so that adjustment is guaranteed. It may happen that these pieces are not securely connected, and the footrest will fall apart over time.
- Footrests made of soft material should not be used with shoes, since the dirt can quickly build-up.
- Footrests made of hard materials may have edges that cause discomfort.
- Not all footrests are high enough for very short people.
- A footrest can be a disturbance under the desk or restrict the freedom of movement. Therefore, it should be positioned so that proper desk ergonomics are always maintained.
For short people, an ergonomic footrest is a good solution, to ensure a correct office posture. Before purchasing a footrest, short people should first measure the necessary height of the footrest, since, depending on the manufacturer, there are great differences and limitations.
Basically, the workplace and the ergonomic table height should be set up in such a way that a footrest is not necessary, because it is just another restriction under the desk. If, on the other hand, the proper desk ergonomics and office chair height cannot be created, an ergonomic footrest is a sensible and important solution. Provided you have enough legroom under the office desk, investing in a multifunctional footrest with an additional leg rest would be worthwhile, as it provides more dynamism and allows you to relax legs alternately, ensuring better ergonomics at the workplace.
If the topic of ergonomics in the office or home office appeals to you and you are interested in it further, my book “Wellness in the Office” provides even more tips and tricks. Combined with humorous drawings, I present 50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise.