The Stability ball has become a staple in every gym, therapy setting, and Pilates studio. These days, the trend has shifted from an exercise setting to the office desk. Doubling as work chairs, the Stability ball provides a versatile seating option in the traditional work space. Before replacing your chair, make sure you are brushed up on ergonomics of the Stability Ball.
The Stability ball worked its way behind the desk for a number of reasons. Sitting on the ball requires stabilization muscles to activate, it typically encourages the spine in the proper S-curve which allows for better body alignment, and it is more comfortable on the sit-bones.
To elaborate, while sitting in a chair, the pelvis may tilt forward or backward instead of the ideal neutral position with hip bones over pubic bone. Ultimately, the spine slumps into a “C” curve instead of the natural “S” curve that is optimal for shock absorption. By the end of the day, a C-curve effects the upper back, shoulders, and neck which every so often results in a tension headache to top it all off. Sitting can also result in permanent debilitating muscular imbalances such as tight hip flexors, uneven hips, kyphosis (rounding of the upper back), and shoulder misalignment. An unstable surface, such as the stability ball requires more muscular recruitment in the lower trunk to sit on the apex of the ball and also challenges the upper back muscles to stay engaged. The upright spine allows shoulders to remain neutral instead of falling into the protracted state when the C-curve takes shape.
Although the ball encourages a natural spinal position, there are many precautions that need to be taken when choosing to sit on the ball for extended periods of time.
Everyone has a different pelvic placement and spinal alignment. Those with lordosis and an anterior pelvic tilt may exacerbate the curve in the lower back. The lower back muscles, quadratus lumborum, may overwork to stabilize and result in discomfort in the lower back. Alternatively, individuals with a posterior pelvic tilt may have trouble balancing on the ball and getting their spine out of flexion. Sitting on a flexed lumbar spine may cause undue stress overtime. Ideally, have a fitness specialist or physical therapist analyze posture in the standing a seated position to make sure the ball is right for you.
When replacing the desk chair with a stability ball, begin with a half hour or less and build up seated time each day to see how the body tolerates the change. Similar to building up to a new exercise routine, the body needs time to adapt to the new spinal position and muscular activation. If sitting on the ball provides discomfort it may not be an appropriate option.
Be sure to pick the right size ball based on your height and body proportions. To test it, sit on the ball and make sure the hips are level or just slightly higher than the knees:
55 cm - 4'11" - 5'4"
65 cm - 5'5" - 5'11"
75 cm - 6'0" - 6' 7"
While sitting on the ball, keep both feet firmly planted on the floor. Stand up to do any office tasks other than seated computer work. For example, when reaching down into a drawer avoid rotating and leaning on the ball as this becomes a fall risk.
The best office solution is to reduce seated time as much as possible. For those who are stuck in a seat, it is recommended to take a stand-up break every 20 to 30 minutes to reduce the health risks. Here are some ways to stand up more throughout your work day:
- Do your work in person: Instead of emailing or calling a co worker about your latest project, walk to their desk to discuss the information.
- Stand up while on the phone: Use a speaker phone or long cord so that whenever you have a phone call you can pace your office or stand and take notes while having the conversation.
- Walk after each meal or snack: Use the last 15 minutes of your lunch break to walk outside, or take a stroll down the office hallway after having a snack to create a habit of standing up more often.
- Alternate between a standing desk and seated desk