It is well known that sitting all day is bad for you. Consequently, it is inevitable that people will look for innovative types of chairs to improve health while sitting. On occasions I am asked to give an opinion about the use of exercise balls for seating at computers. Some say the strategy for using exercise balls is to get more exercise and to reduce fatigue and discomfort. However, there is no factual basis for this supposition as it relates to office work, and in fact, evidence supports the contrary.
The idea of sitting on an exercise ball instead of a traditional office chair is that the instability of an exercise ball requires the user to increase trunk muscle activation and thus increase core strength, improve posture and decrease discomfort. Another benefit ball chair supporters claim is increased calorie burn. When the core is engaged, they say, the user burns more calories than they would sitting in a traditional office chair. But what happens during prolonged seated work when the office worker simply slumps while sitting on an exercise ball that offers no lumbar support?
One study found that, “Prolonged sitting on an exercise (“stability”) ball does not greatly alter the manner in which an individual sits, yet it appears to increase the level of discomfort.” According to the Centre of Research Expertise for the Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders, “The use of stability balls as a chair may actually increase the risk of developing low back discomfort and may increase the risk of sustaining an injury due to the unstable nature of the balls.”
From years of office ergonomic consulting, interviews, and observations, WorkSaver ergonomic specialists have found that office workers are much more likely to assume a slumped posture while engaged in work at a computer while sitting on an exercise ball than while sitting in an ergonomic chair. Slumped posture increases spinal intradiscal pressure and over time can lead to lower back strains and even herniated discs.
The bottom line: Exercise balls are not a good seating choice for office work. They are best used for exercise when not working at a computer. A better solution for office work is to select a properly designed ergonomic office chair and consider a sit-stand workstation. It is also very important to take stretch breaks throughout the day and take short walks or use a treadmill at break times.
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