Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Corporate Wellness: Why Swiss Balls Chairs Can Ruin your Back by Anders N W Lindgreen

In the fitness industry we love developing new tools and deem these new innovations to be the second coming of Christ and the solution to all our problems, and so we use them for just about everything until research tells us not to. Swiss Balls are one of those things.

A couple of years back creative business leaders and health professionals began to introduce the concept of switching your old company chair for a Swiss Ball to improve your core-strength, alleviate back pain and improve your back health. It was the perfect solution, until researchers said no. But not everyone out there got the memo.

What Are Core Muscles?

Your core muscles represent the girdle of stabilisers running around your abdomen and lower back. Without these stabilisers your intestines would bulge out and your backbone would break. The beloved six-pack is one of the many muscles in this group.

What is Wrong with Swiss Balls as Office Chairs?

There is nothing wrong in theory with sitting on a Swiss Ball. Trying to balance on one will indeed engage your core and it can be a great tool in strengthening it. However, after prolonged times of sitting (20+ min) your core muscles fatigue and your posture actually ends up being worse than before. Because when the muscles designed to stabilise are fatigued, there is little support for your back.

When you sit on a normal chair your core muscles don't have to engage, so they don't fatigue like they do while balancing on a Swiss Ball - where they are forced to be activated. I am not saying an office chair is necessarily better for your back, but at least it leaves your core ready for work when you need it to - like when you get up to walk, twist or carry things.

What Are Our Options?

The absolute best thing that you can do is to be aware of your posture at all times and make sure you don't look like a sack of potatoes just because you are sitting down. After about 10-15 min of sitting our brain stops recognising good posture until we begin to move again, so a quick stand-up and resetting your posture every 15 minutes would be great.

If you feel like investing in some new furniture, there are certainly chairs that are more ergonomic than others, but no super-chair can really keep us from slouching.