If you like sitting on a ball, go for it. If you make your living selling balls, good luck.
But, a ball is not an ergonomic seating device, and it is not a substitute for an ergonomic office chair. I don’t care how many testimonials I hear (and in fact, the more I hear, and the more fervent the testimonial, the more suspicious I become), a ball as an office chair is a bad idea.
It’s things like a ball being labelled “ergonomic” that contribute to the public’s misunderstanding of ergonomics. The ball chair is a gimmick. It’s a fad. It’s not ergonomics, and it should not be labelled ergonomic. And, whether or not you personally like using a ball as a chair is irrelevant to this discussion.
I have tried using a ball as an office chair. I used it for 3 full weeks, 8 or more hours per day (I purchased a set with 3 different sizes). I hated it. After a short time, I’d find myself slouching to avoid muscle fatigue. The slouching would then create new discomfort. No matter which size I used, there was a mismatch between my seated height, my keyboard/mouse height, and my monitor height, all combining to create neck and shoulder discomfort. If I understand the arguments ball proponents are making, then the fact that I hated it is really my fault for not using it “properly”. This is yet another reason a ball is not an ergonomic device: In ergonomics, we don’t blame the user, we design the system to support the known characteristics and behavior of the user population and the tasks they are expected to perform. We modify the system to fit the user, we don’t modify the person to fit a bad system. And a one-size-fits-all (or two-size-, or even three-size-) ball is a poor contribution to an office workstation system.
The problem is that chairs haven’t been so good for the last couple of decades. And even when chairs were good many folks, myself included, were too cheap to buy them. How many folks have a decent chair for their home workstation and how may people actually adjust their chair appropriately when at work? I have done a lot of consultation type work over the last 12 years and I can tell you that there are a lot of bad chairs out there. Many are too large for the people using them and many do not mesh well with the modular furniture they are used with. Hardly anyone has any training on how to use them. I have to agree with Peter in the assessement of balls as ergonomic seating. They are great as a diversion during the day if one is chained to their desk but I don’t think they would hold a candle to a good work chair combined with the training needed to devlelop a decent understanding by the user of what they are trying to accomplish.
People’s overall physical fitness is pathetic and as such a period of time on a ball during the day may well improve their overall muscle tone. This is a laudable goal. If we are going to replace something, replace the couch, recliner, or kitchen chair with a ball. It would be easier to eat a bowl of cereal while on a ball than it would be to type a report on one. It certainly would be easier to watch a NOVA special on TV from a ball than to perform most office tasks. I assume that all good forum contributors stay away from commercial reality TV.
My concern is that employers will think that providing a ball will somehow relieve them of the need to develop scheduling that gets people away from the computer for awhile and the need to provide decent seating and training. Like most things a ball probably has its place as does a chair. One should not be considered a universal replacement for the other.
but if chairs are so good why, during the last couple of decades where western humanity has sat more than other times in history, on chairs supporting our backs, looking at computer screens, has there been such a huge increase in back problem? All the people I have trained are not athletes , they are office workers and love sitting on the ball and all feel better for it including myself
Firstly, Yes I do like siting on the ball and so do many of my colleagues.
Secondly, I dont make a living selling swissballs, in fact I dont sell them at all. I do however reccommend safe products that people can buy on their own. I am a lawyer and can assure you that selling a couple of balls will not add anything substantial to my already very substantial income. I dont even charge for training people at work, twice a week during lunch breaks.
You have not addressed any of the aguments I have put forward. You have shown scepticism about testimonials. I wonder what you would have said had there not been testimonials? Would it have been: ‘Where are your testimonials?’
Your argument about ergonomics is actually irrelevant to my argument. It is true that ergonomic seating is aimed at making people comfortable and efficient at work by designing something that takes account of their particular physical circumstances, and thats fine. So if someone is kyphotic something is constructed to make them comfortable taking that into account. If someone has lower back pain, make something that will deal with that symptom etc.
However, what do ergonomic devices do to deal with the root cause of the back pain which may not even have been caused by sitting but by something else?
In my first response that I sent in a few days ago I didn’t go into what actually occurred in my case and I ask you and others to indulge me for a little while.
I used to weigh about 150 kilograms, which is about 320 pounds. This was caused by my own slovenly and fast food (lots of it) lifestyle. I had a huge belly and rear end and I was only 174 centimetres tall. I couldn’t sit wihout pain in my lower spine, nor could I walk for more than about 100 metres without my back muscles cramping up so that I would have to stop and rest.
At work the occupational health and therapy folk really tried their best to help me. They brought a variety of chairs. Unfortunatelly I coud not fit into most of them. They tried a chair with an expanded seat but that ended in failure because iI could not swivel around on it without hitting the desk, but truthfully, I could not swivel around anyway.
When I came accross the personal trainer who suggested I try a swissball, not only was I sceptical but I thought the idea was hilariously funny. When he brought one around to my home I was terrified to try it. I could not imagine this air filled membrane holding my weight, never mind trying to balance.
After much coaxing I did try it and true I struggled to balance, but the trainer persevered and every day for a week I sat on it for about 30min. BY the end of the week nothing really hapopened but I noticed that the pain in my back had lessened somewhat so I kept going. Taking the ball to work was very embarassing. Most of my colleagues found it to say the least, amusing, this big blob sitting on a big ball and there were resultant merry remarks, such as ‘big bely on big ball’ balls up balls down etc.
The one thing that really convinced me to keep going on the ball was the fact that after about three weeks I went for a’walk’ with my wife and guess what I could keep going and didn’t have to rest until I covered 300 metres! What an achievement. The rest was that I started walking a lot, the I went to gym, changed my diet and lost 50 kilograms of pure fat! I started to study fitness at college, became a qualified gym instructor and at the end of last year at the age of 58 became qualified as a personal trainer ,rehab provider and swissball instructor.
The point I want to make is; had I not struggled to balance on the ball and in so doing mobilised my otherwise fused up pelvis, and strengthened my lower back and stomach muscles I would not have started to walk and the rest would not have happened. Had they found an ergonomic chair to make me comfortable at work , I would have remained a fot slob on a chair. The ball did not make me lose weght or aerobically fit, but sitting on the ball surely started the process.
Since then I have helped a good few unhappy individuals who sit very comfotably and healthily on a ball.
By the way there is at least one piece of research done uising the ball. It was done as a Masters degree research project by physiotherapy students at Andrews University:
Steinke, K J and Morgan, A C, The Thera-Band (R) Exercise Ball as a substiute for the desk chair: ‘The effect on trunk muscle strenth, endurance and the lumbar curve’, Andrews University, College of Arts and Sciences (Department of Physical Therapy) 2000.
I quote from the ABSTRACT
“The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of sitting on the Theraband (R) Exercise Ball compared to a conventional desk chair on muscle strenth, endurance amd lumbar curvature. Students in the physical therapy class of 2000 at Andrews University, with written voluntary consent, participated in this study. Subjects were divided into two groups in which one group sat on a conventional desk chair and one group on the Thera-Band (R) Exercise Ball for a period of six weeks. after six weeks, the groups switched seating assignments for an additional six weeks. Upon conclusion of the study, each participant completed an anonymous survey regarding seating preference, and effect of intervention on low back pain and attention span. Measurement of abdominal and erectorspinae strength and endurance, and lumbar curvature, were recorded on three occassions; before the first seating assignment, after the first six weeks between seating assignments, and finally after the second seating assignment. An overall increase or maintenance in trunk muscle strength andendurance was seen after a period of 4 weeks sitting on the ball. Participant feedback revealed an overwhelming preference for sitting on the ball as well as a general decrease in low back pain and an increase in attention span. This suggests that use of the Thera-Band (R) Exercise Ball as an alternative seating arrangement may be preferable to that of a standard desk chair.”
This site is owned and operated by Ergoweb Inc. Ergoweb is a company that specializes in ergonomics. Using a ball as an office chair is not an ergonomics application.
On the other hand, using a ball as a chair, for certain individuals, under certain controlled conditions, could be therapeutic, or could be useful as part of an exercise regime. Your testimonial speaks to that. Congratulations to you for controlling your weight and improving your physical fitness. I, too, have lost weight and improved my physical fitness over the past few years. However, wellness, or whatever we might call it, is not necessarily ergonomics. Wellness and ergonomics might go hand in hand as injury prevention strategies, but they are not the same, and they are not interchangeable.
Ergonomics goes far beyond preventing and controlling musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Ergonomics is an engineering/design approach, not a healthcare/treatment approach, though some professionals cross this boundary effectively, and the two strategies can work well together as part of a larger process to prevent and treat MSDs.
So, again, no matter how many testimonials I hear, it won’t change my mind that using a one-size-fits-all ball as an office chair is a bad idea. It’s neither ergonomic, nor is it responsible for consultants or company managers to issue a ball as a chair in most office environments. If, on the other hand, a qualified healthcare professional prescribes a ball as a chair, so be it.
Now, perhaps it would be a good idea to advance this discussion beyond the circular arguments surrounding the ball (no pun intended…).
At the heart of this discussion is “dynamic seating”, or “passive ergonomics”, or whatever terminology you prefer. That is, certain seating designs either create or support dynamics, and certain dynamics are presumed to be good for seated activities. Using a ball as a chair is one way to stimulate certain dynamics. I have argued that a ball is not an ergonomic device. However, there are chairs and stools on the market that do encourage or support dynamics, and can be considered ergonomic in their design.
I agree the ball is just an alternative. Exercisesand breaks go way back. i used simple breaks from a 1986 article for some teachers to use with students. they were designed for office workers but all need some breaks whether they be stretches, brain gym exercises, hand or eye specific, etc. I think that is highly overlooked.
It’s interesting to see the discussion regarding active sitting (ball) versus static sitting (chair). As the husband of a certified Pilates instructor, my gut reaction is that there’s some validity in the concept of active sitting and a resultant improvement in lower back pain. Pilates is all about strengthening the core muscles and many of the muscles that are strengthened from using a Swiss ball as a chair are the same muscles that are the focus in Pilates, which has a tremendous success in treating low back pain and other related issues.
However, that being said, I would also think that an individual should only use a Swiss ball much like one would approach starting a regime in Pilates or any other exercise program – a little at first, and gradually building up. Like in anything else, every body is different and one should only proceed in a new conditioning/muscle strengthening program at a rate that fits their individual level of fitness. Now, given that using a Swiss ball builds up one’s core muscles, I wonder if maybe one of the reasons that past studies on the use of Swiss balls showed negative results was that the researchers failed to take into account the different levels of fitness of the study subjects’ core musculature. It would be interesting to see a study in which the researchers tailored the time-on/time-off the balls to the individuals. And one in which the research team included people well versed on how to assess core strength, because outward appearance (even body builders typically have poorly developed core muscles) and aerobic fitness have nothing to do with this part of the body.
Also regarding active sitting – I’ve seen a particular chair advertised for a couple of years now which touts it’s connection to active sitting – the Swopper. Has anybody had any experience with it? It looks like some of the movements/muscles used in the Swiss ball would also be engaged in using the Swopper. I would think that if there have been any studies done with that chair the results would be relevant to this discussion by providing maybe another perspective. Has anybody seen anything on it?
Ball seats can be detrimental to the employee and should only be used under strict guidelines usually prepared by the physio after performing a workplace assessment. My suggestion is that you seek permission from the employee to speak to his / her physio, who may indicate the restriction placed on the worker as a result of the disability.
Phil Hunt Grad Dip (Rehab Couns)
No I haven’t heard of the ‘swopper’ but you are right about a slow introduction to sitting and exercising on the swissball or any exercise. Researchers have often noted that people at first feel uncomfortable on the ball and feel muscular fatigue at first. That is the usual symptoms beginners feel. When muscles have not been used at all or very little, fatigue will set in when they are suddenly fired up to work. It takes time, perseverence and incremental resistance to allow the muscles to adapt to the new tasks. Hence it is no good to try to sit on a swiss ball for 7 or 8 hours first up because the core nuscles would buckle under the strain of sudden intense work for that time period and if that mode of work carries on daily they may never repair. The idea is to slowly increase the work i.e sit for 10-15 minutes a day at first and slowly increase the time over weeks. That would allow the muscles to adapt and strenthen.
Hi Normtrub, Balls are inflatable elastic envelopes. Like waterbeds they are dangerous because they may leak. Like Rocking Chairs they provide motion. Motion stimulates the parasympatic nervous system.Most chairs provide zero motion. You need a chair that is safe,elastic,economical and ergonomic
I think what it all boils down to is that the human body was not meant to spend inordinate amounts of time in the static seated position. Unstable and semi-stable surfaces such as the Swiss Ball may be partial remedies to the lack of activity, but there is no one answer. The bottom line is to reduce the risk factor- prolonged sitting. Perhaps in the near future technology will allow us to perform computer related tasks in any posture, even while riding a bike! Until then, we’ll have to keep looking for solutions that mitigate the effects of prolonged sitting, whether a $700 chair or $30 ball.
Just my opinion,
HI Johnssuter, If balls are dangerous because they can leak, what about car tyres can they leak or worse still burst? are they not dangerous? Should we stop driving cars? Do you drive a car?
Swissballs may leak but a good anti burst ball won’t. There are swissballs that are university tested to withstand weight of up to 1000kgs and gauranteed not to burst, but deflate slowly if punctured even with a weight of 150kgs. As far as movement is concerned, a rocking chair still keeps the body immobile in the chair. It just changes position in space, the joints are not moving. On the other hand the ball encourages movement of the pelvic other joins and the muscles around them. Completely different to a rocking chair. Norm
The forum ‘General Ergonomics Topics’ is closed to new topics and replies.