If you are a tall person, you might not give much thought to an under the desk foot rest. Your feet might naturally sit on the floor. You might be thinking “what is the big deal?” The big deal is about posture, core strength, and improving function. Here, we’re covering how a desk foot support can improve sitting posture when writing. While it feels cool to swing your legs under your desk, it is not beneficial in the long term. Let’s explain…
Under the desk foot rest
An under the floor desk foot rest may be an essential tool to support upper body positioning that offers the stability needed for distal mobility when writing, reading, and completing fine motor or visual motor tasks.
These positioning devices can be a great flexible seating option as well.
What is an under the desk foot rest?
An under the desk foot rest is just as you might imagine it to be…a supportive place to rest the feet to promote optimal alignment of the body in a chair. We cover specific reasons to use an under the desk positioner below.
Let’s break this down…
Enter the (Amazon affiliate link) Squatty Potty as Exhibit A. The people who invented the squatty potty did research to show that having your feet on the floor (or elevated on their stool), helps you go #2 by improving body position. Positioning is one of the first areas an occupational therapy practitioners addresses when it comes to potty training interventions.
There is a long list of other benefits to having your feet on the floor while using the toilet. I think the best one is comfort. If a stool is beneficial for one of the body’s basic functions, imagine what it can do when supporting the feet under a desk!
The positioning needs of sitting at a desk are not much different. An optimal position is needed for working at a desk with refined motor skills.
The layout of workstations has not changed much over the years. Even though the workforce is more inclusive today, workstations are still set up for people 5”10” or taller.
School desks and chairs are set up much the same way. Adults of shorter stature (5’6” for males and 5’2” for females) can benefit from an under the desk foot rest. Children of smaller size can also benefit.
The benefits of having an under the desk foot rest
Let’s break down the benefits of using an under the desk foot positioner.
Comfort – I already mentioned comfort in regards to toileting. If you are of shorter stature, think about sitting on a stool at a bar. Your feet are dangling, and it feels like you are about to slip off the chair. You keep scooting backward trying to get some traction.
While you keep scooting and squirming in your chair, you are conscious of your body and not on the conversation you are supposed to be having.
This is the same for people in any kind of chair.
Health benefits – Footrests align posture, reduce fatigue, and ease pain or discomfort in the feet, ankles, knees, and thighs.
A rocking footrest improves the circulation in your legs by maintaining consistent movement throughout the day. This lowers the chances of leg pain, stiffness, and developing varicose veins or blood clots.
A chair that is too high may lead users to sit cross legged instead of feet on the floor.
Positioning – there are several components to positioning. Some of it was mentioned under comfort. If a person is small and trying to sit in a large chair, they need to scoot forward to reach the edge of the chair, which results in slumping, or tired muscles from sitting without support.
If they scoot all the way to the back of the chair, these students can not effectively reach the desk in front of them. The front of the chair often hits their legs at inconvenient places other than the back of the knees.
Proper positioning which sitting includes the hips, knees, and ankles at ninety degrees. Studies show that sitting cross legged for more than three hours per day may cause shoulder inclination, lateral pelvic tilt, and forward head posture.
Fine motor precision – people are often given taller chairs to make them the correct height to reach the table. This is wise, as the elbows should be at ninety degrees for optimal fine motor output.
A person who is falling out of their chair is less likely to produce efficient or effective output. While this taller chair gives the student a better tabletop position, it leaves the legs dangling.
While the ultimate solution is a small chair and a small desk, this is not always feasible.
Posture – posture goes hand in hand with positioning, or can be an effect of positioning.
People of short stature who can not reach the ground often slump in their chair to touch the ground, lean forward on their desks to try and gain stability, or tip laterally due to weakened core muscles. Check out this post on Writing Posture. Also, read about: Why do Kids Slouch in their seats?
Sensory – while having your legs dangling due to an incorrect sized chair can be great sensory input, in can also cause disorganization and dysregulation. Sensory input, at its’ best is self-regulated.
This means that you have control over your body and what is happening to it. If you can not reach the floor to stop the movement and get grounded, this often leads to dysregulation.
Dysregulation can add to inattention, lack of focus, emotional instability, and seeking or avoiding behaviors as your body and brain expends so much effort trying to stay in your chair.
TYPES OF UNDER THE DESK FOOT RESTS
An under the desk foot rest can range from home made boxes to deluxe apparatus. This will depend on environment, budget, and needs.
Homemade foot positioner options – if you are on a tight budget, or feel this accommodation might be temporary, making a simple home-made under the desk foot rest may be right for you.
This can be made from a stack of books, carboard box, pieces of wood, a plastic tub, shoebox, etc. You can also make an under the desk foot rest out of scrap wood or pallets if you are handy. In the “old days” the Yellow Pages were great for making foot rests and booster seats!
Basic foot rests – A basic foot rest is a simple design that are basically no more than a box. Use these for someone who needs nothing more than a place to put their feet.
Slanted foot rests – A slanted foot rest helps you sit back further in your chair and lean into the support of your chair. A good one to look for has grippy surface to keep the feet from sliding on the slanted rest. It keeps you sitting upright in a more neutral posture.
Rocking foot rest – A rocking foot rest encourages leg and foot movement at a time of day where most people are inactive. It can increase metabolic rate and keep you healthy. This is a great option for individuals who need a quiet fidget tool at school in order to self-regulate through movement.
Foam foot rest – A foam foot rest has a soft cushion that feels good to use. The soft surface is comfortable on the feet. You can flip this over for a rocking surface, and get one with a base to raise the height. Most come with a washable cover to keep it clean.
It is lightweight and portable, although big and bulky. This might not be the greatest if you are in a dirty space, or come in from the outside with shoes on and step on it.
Sensory foot rest – some sensory cushions can double as an under the desk sensory footrest. The wiggle cushion and square blue foot cushion not only provide great sensory input, they can bridge the height gap.
One inexpensive sensory foot rest is to use a partially deflated beach ball. We love the sensory tool as a seating tool and under the desk positioning offers sensory input as well.
ALTERNATIVE TYPES OF UNDER DESK FOOT REST
Above are the more traditional types of foot rests. There are times when a traditional method is not feasible or the best for the user. Some of these offer heavy work through the feet and legs. Others on the list below offer a form of proprioceptive input. Others provide a base of support for better alignment.
These are affiliate links to Amazon.
- Bouncy band – check out my post on Foot Fidgets to get an idea of under the desk fidgets. The bouncy band can provide a moveable surface to give input to the feet and legs. It can provide some support, but is not going to be as stable as a traditional foot rest. These however are more subtle, cost effective, and easier to move.
- Exercise equipment – an under the desk bike or elliptical can provide movement, but not as much stability. If you need a foot rest because of sensory or health issues requiring movement, an under the desk exercise bike might be a good alternative.
- Exercising foot rest – this footrest has an exercising motion that improves circulation. It has a unique surface that helps stimulate and promote blood flow to your feet. This design is going to be more cumbersome if you switch desks a lot. It is super expensive, but very cool!
- Foot massager – if you need some extra comfort while you work, a massager might we what you need.
- Foot bar – this simple bar gives you a place to rest the feet and move with a swinging motion. This is great for people who are required to stand in one place for long periods of time. Resting one foot at a time on the bar reduces pressure on the lower back and allows more dynamic posture throughout the day. There is also a foot hammock as another alternative…
- Foot rest hammock – this is a cool new idea to elevate the feet. Not sure how effective it is for positioning in the long run, but innovative.
One of the the best solutions for an under the desk footrest is to change the workplace set up. Creating a workplace that is ergonomically designed for your specific body is ultimately best for you.
While you still might benefit from a moving foot rest, you will not be dependent on one for height requirements. Check out this post on Alternative Seating Options.
TIPS FOR SELECTING an UNDER The DESK FOOT REST
As with everything in life, nothing is one size fits all. Trial and error may be required to find the right solution, but there are general guidelines to consider:
- Measure the distance between the feet and the floor to get the best fit. Knees can be slightly elevated, and feet should be able to firmly sit on the foot rest.
- Check the type of seat provided. Is it too large, too small, too soft/firm, not supportive, or uncomfortable? Some people need arm rests and lateral supports. Other people need high back rests for optimum comfort.
- Make sure the foot rest is acceptable for the user and other people in their workspace. Something distracting or noisy might not be the best in a busy classroom. A student who moves to several different classrooms might need a stool in each room, or something small and portable.
- Safety first. Check for slipping of the feet on the foot rest, movement of the footrest on the floor, and ease of getting in/out of the desk with the foot rest there.
- Watch for other seating needs. Users might need a cushion, head rest, lateral supports, foot cups, and other adaptations to insure the best posture and comfort
- Check for compliance. Be sure that your user is using the footrest provided. If not, find out why. Maybe it is too distracting, embarrassing, ugly, improper fit, uncomfortable, or not allowed by the staff.
Power of an Under the Desk FootRest
What seems so simple, like sitting in a chair (or on the toilet!) can be full of complications that have a larger effect than first imagined. Go back to the foundation when diagnosing and treating problems.
Maybe visual motor difficulties stem from poor seating. Perhaps that neck and back pain have to do with sitting posture. Sometimes a simple fix such as an under the desk foot rest can ripple into a big change.
Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.