The Sitting Series: Exercise Ball Chairs

What chair is best for me and my health?

I know what you’re thinking and yes we are counting this as a viable chair… kind of. Ergonomic chairs that offer improved leg, pelvic and lumbar positioning are increasing in popularity, but they still have their own downsides. Using one of these chairs can be taxing on your muscles and may take some getting used to. In this series we will go through various chairs, advantages, disadvantages and sitting tips in general.

Exercise ball

Exercise balls are becoming more common in the work place as a replacement to conventional chairs. The basis of the ball is that it forces increased muscle contraction to stabilise the body and stop you from falling off it (because chairs were becoming too relaxing).
As the muscles in your lower back are contracting when you are on the ball it forces your lumbar spine into a neutral position. This should relieve tension in the hips and mid back. Unfortunately due to the sponginess of the ball the hips fall through the ball slightly which in turn deactivates the upper back muscles. This means upper spinal posture needs to be consciously worked on when using a ball.

The knees can be below the hips but the correct size ball must be purchased for each user as they cannot be altered (or slightly deflated – trust us this doesn’t work!). A bit of time spent strengthening before using this ball will help you gain the most benefit from it.

The largest downfall of the ball is spinal shrinkage. Studies have shown that spinal shrinkage occurs as little as one hour after sitting on the ball. Spinal shrinkage can lead to major discomfort. The muscles in the lower back work harder when you’re on an exercise ball. They pull your vertebrae together because they contract as they are working, this  puts more force on the discs between each bone. These exercise ball chairs accelerate the natural daily process of spinal shrinkage, we start to shrink as soon as we get up from bed so don’t be alarmed. The downside is these balls as seats make it happen more quickly.


The research sates that although this shrinkage occurs the benefits outweigh the negatives of the ball. You may want to think about using this option for short periods, as an alternative to another chair; give you a short break occasionally throughout the day.

By Tristan White MOst DO ND