Showing posts with label sitting on a stability ball. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sitting on a stability ball. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Stability Ball vs. Standard Office Chair: Which is Best?

Fact is, many of us will spend the bulk of our waking hours sitting in front of a desk.  This fact creates health problems for some, including lower back pain. To solve for this, a growing number of office workers are experimenting with substituting their office chairs for stability balls. Will sitting on one these SUV-tire-sized rubberized balls truly help your back pain? Is it an effective way to improve your posture or strengthen your core? And even if it can do these things, is it truly going to work as a full-time chair substitute at your desk?

Of one thing there is no doubt – the scientific data confirms that too much sitting in a chair is not good for you, as we reported in the article Is Sitting Bad for Your Health? . Prolonged sitting is associate with a shorter life expectancy, with negative changes in muscle structure, and fat accumulation in your heart, liver, and brain. Other problems with extended office chair sitting include hip trouble, neck strain, back pain, and wrist problems.

Add all this up and it’s clear why medical experts are encouraging us to move about. But, specifically, what about the stability ball – will it work as a desk chair substitute and improve your health?

How a stability ball helps you

The theory behind the stability ball is that you simply cannot sit still on one: that the necessary, constant micro-movements of the trunk muscles in order to maintain your stability atop the ball will increase the strength of your core muscles and, consequently, improve or correct your lumbar spine posture.  This much is true; sitting on a bouncy rubber ball involves muscles more than sitting in an office chair.

The science behind the ball

Whether or not a stability ball is good exercise, the real question is, Is it an effective chair alternative?
Most studies cast a shadow on the feasibility of the stability ball as a legitimate, practical substitution for the chair. For example, in a 2006 study from Canada’s University of Waterloo, researchers concluded that:
  • Spinal muscle activation increased – score one point for the ball as an exercise form!
  • Unhealthy pelvic tilt decreased slightly – score a half point for the chair as posture aid!
  • Discomfort increased – i.e., its use for prolonged sitting may not be advantageous.
Results were similar in a 2009 study from The Netherlands, which also found that some spinal shrinkage occurred when sitting on an exercise ball – not a good thing. They concluded that that “the advantages with respect to physical loading of sitting on an exercise ball may not outweigh the disadvantages.”

More recently, a 2013 analysis of seven related studies comparing the effect of dynamic sitting (using seating that keeps you moving) to a more static sitting condition (i.e. traditional office chairs) concluded that dynamic sitting only minimally activates trunk muscles while actively increasing discomfort.

In short: buyer beware

To summarize, do not expect prolonged sitting on a stability ball to make much difference in the manner in which you sit, and do expect it to to increase discomfort.

Possibly, if you had the patience to continue using a stability ball for several hours a day for a few weeks, your trunk muscles would strengthen to a point that the discomfort would lessen.  But, in the meantime, expect to keep using your desk chair for the bulk of your sitting.

A legal consideration: Even if you conclude that you want to try substituting your chair for a big ball, be advised that some businesses don’t allow stability balls in the office, citing potential health or safety risks. For example, you could fall off the ball and get injured, or the ball could result in trip-and-fall injuries to others. So, check with your employer first.

Alternatives to stability balls for sitting

There are many other types of movement chairs, including knee chairs, rocking office chairs, and treadmill chairs. But one of the easiest and most affordable solutions to reducing back pain and other health issues from prolonged seating is to not sit for prolonged periods.

In other words, take micro-breaks every 20 minutes or so and stand, at least, or take a short walk to the water fountain and back. As we’ve reported earlier, even by making small changes like this in your daily routine you can make significant improvements in your health.

You can also use your phone or computer software to keep you moving; set an alarm to remind you every 20 or 30 minutes to get up and move about.  Your back and your heart will thank you for it.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer