This article is an excerpt from the 2017 April Alaska Safety Working Group newsletter.
Exercise balls (or FitBalls, Swiss Balls, Physio Balls, etc.) have been appearing in the workplace as a replacement for an office chair. There is much debate over the benefits or detriments of using these balls, originally intended for gym or physical therapy equipment, as a desk chair.
An opinion piece on the Ergoweb site (which can be found at https://ergoweb.com/opinion-balls-as-office-chairs-a-bad-idea/), lists many comments from Ergonomists on the use of exercise balls as office chairs. Several of the experts point out that one has to be careful questioning the advice of an individual’s treating professional and that the balls certainly do have their place in a therapy setting. However, the general consensus is that the balls are not intended for prolonged use. One Ergonomist stated, “Exercise balls are not recommended for prolonged office sitting. Sitting…with no trunk support and the constant trunk movement does activate trunk musculature and therefore aids in maintaining muscle tone. However, since the muscles shorten during contraction, there is a huge compression placed on the intervertebral discs.”
Loré Olson, Environmental Health and Safety Officer and Ergonomic Evaluator at the Alaska Native Medical Center, has seen some of the negative effects of the use of exercise balls as chairs. “They are not meant to be used for sitting 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. The balls can pop, and we’ve had a few instances of staff injuries from the user falling on their tailbone.” She also points out that the balls aren’t height adjustable, making it difficult for the user to position themselves at their workstation in a neutral posture without the purchase of additional equipment such as monitor arms and keyboard trays. “Even if a person were to switch between ball and chair throughout the day, they may be out of alignment with their workstation at least part of the time.”
Unless the use of a ball is prescribed by a medical professional, an adjustable, ergonomic chair designed for office use is considered a better option by many ergonomists.