Fitballs (a.k.a swiss balls, exercise balls, physio balls) are a fantastic and cost-effective piece of equipment that can be used in many different ways to improve strength, balance and stability. There is also a commonly-held belief that they should be used in place of an office chair to reduce back pain and improve postural control.
So, is it true?
For most people, I believe the answer is no. And this is why:
1. You can still sit badly on a fitball
The idea that sitting on a fitball will ‘force’ you to sit with good posture is simply not true. You can still sit with poor posture on a fitball:
In fact, sitting poorly on a fitball is probably worse than sitting badly on a conventional chair, because the base of support for your thighs and buttocks is reduced and you have to work harder hold your position.
2. Our bodies are not designed to work this way
So many people suffer with back and neck pain from computer use simply because of the prolonged sitting that goes with it.
There is a theory that sitting on a fitball will force your muscles to be more active, in turn improving your muscle strength/endurance and eventually reducing pain. Unfortunately, our muscles are simply not designed to work this way. Our bodies are just not meant to hold sustained positions for long periods of time. In most cases, the extra muscle effort required to hold the more active sitting position on a fitball will lead to muscle fatigue and eventually discomfort.
3. They are not the most practical or flexible option
A lot of money and engineering has gone into the design of office chairs – even the most basic ones – so that they can be adaptable and practical. A good office chair should allow you to swivel and move easily around a workstation. Fitballs do not offer any of this flexibility – they require you to twist and lean, and they roll away every time you stand up!
So what should you sit on for work?
It can be confusing when you are bombarded with so many choices:
Whilst it can come down to personal preference, the ideal chair is usually one that supports you in the best posture possible without the need for too much muscle effort. It does not have to cost a fortune and will usually look something like this:
Is the right chair enough?
Even with the right chair, the key to increased comfort at your desk is to use the chair properly and to take frequent, short breaks to vary your position. For more detailed information on optimising chair and desk set-up, keep an eye out for future posts in this series!
*GLOW Physio offers workplace ergonomic assessments! We can come to your workplace, assess your set up and provide with advice, recommendations and simple modifications to improve your comfort and efficiency*