Many of us have used an exercise ball either at the gym or at home as part of a workout routine. We know how beneficial it is especially for building core stability. The question I get asked many times is, “Is sitting on an exercise ball good for my back? Will this improve my posture or decrease my back pain?” The answer is not as simple as it seems. A comparative study of the stability ball vs. the desk chair in healthy young adults found “no benefits of sitting on a stability ball over that of a desk chair in prolonged sitting as both seating types were found to replicate a poor sitting position through a kyphosed or slumped posture”. 1 However practice shows different results. Most patients in our practice who sit on a ball are advised to use the gym ball and to only sit on it as long as it is comfortable. If you want to start sitting on an exercise ball at work safely follow these recommendations.
Recommendations for sitting on an exercise ball
Usually I recommend that patients start with ball stability exercises for the back, do those for 2-4 weeks before transitioning to sitting on an exercise ball instead of the chair. Once you have built some abdominal strength and you are pain free you can start slowly and take as much time as needed to get to 20 minutes of sitting comfortably per day. Alternate sitting on a chair with sitting on a ball. Whether you suffer from lower back pain or not 20 minutes alternation between the two may have a benefit.
Pros and cons to sitting on an exercise ball
There are many great benefits to sitting on a gym ball at work rather than an office chair, even if your company provided you with a very expensive ergonomic chair. Some of the main benefits one can receive from sitting on an exercise ball are improved posture and strength through increased muscle activation, co-activation and muscle co-contraction. Another great benefit is that by staying in motion sitting on the exercise ball, you are improving blood circulation throughout all parts of your body during the day. Prolonged sitting on an office chair can reduce blood circulation to some parts of the body.
Sitting on a ball can increase your passive energy expenditure. Studies show that you can burn up to 350 calories per day, depending on how much movement you have and how long you sit on the exercise ball on a daily basis. To put this in perspective, burning 350 more calories a day can result in losing a pound of fat every 10 days.
With all the great benefits of using an exercise ball as an office chair, there are also a few drawbacks that need to be considered. Due to the lack of backrest and arm rest, some may find it difficult to maintain a proper posture for an entire day, therefore making slouching on the ball vulnerable.
Additionally, depending on the height of your desk, an exercise ball may not be able to reach your desktop properly to sit ergonomically. This can create a problem for long term use of the ball. I recommend that your hips are slightly higher than your knees. Make sure that your screen is elevated at eye or slightly above eye level. If it is a laptop, connect a separate keyboard for proper arm ergonomics. Also, if you do not have means of anchoring the ball, it may roll away each time you stand up.
What size ball should I use?
There are typically 3 different size balls and is dependent on your height. For instance, if you are between 4’11” and 5’4”, choose a 55 cm diameter ball. If you are between 5’5” and 5’11”, choose a 65 cm diameter ball. If you are over 6” tall, choose a 75 cm diameter ball.
Please be aware that when you first start out sitting on an exercise ball, you may want to pace yourself. Meaning, your body and muscles may get fatigued quickly as you are not accustomed to sitting in this position in the beginning. Once you have build up some strength and endurance, then feel free to sit as long as it is comfortable.
For more information on sitting on an exercise ball go to Chiro-Health’s, Inc You tube channel ball exercises for low back. For questions or phone consultations you can e-mail Dr. Amelia Mazgaloff or call Chiro-Health, Inc at (415) 546-1461 or visit http://www.chirohealthsf.com/services/.
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