Science Behind Using Stability Balls as Chairs is Shaky

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a common issue for office workers. They also are a costly one for employers.

Consider the following:

  • MSDs are the single largest category of workplace injuries
  • MSDs are responsible for nearly 30 percent of all workers’ compensation costs
  • Each year, companies in the United States spend about $50 billion in direct costs of MSDs
  • The average MSD has a direct cost of almost $15,000
  • The indirect costs of MSDs can be up to five times greater than the direct costs

It is easy to see, therefore, why employees and employers work so hard to prevent MSDs. One way office workers are trying to avoid MSDs is through the use of exercise balls as chairs. And why wouldn’t they? It seems like everyone you talk to these days tells you that replacing your office chair with an exercise ball will not only allow you to get in a little daily exercise, it also will help improve your posture.

The idea between using an exercise ball as a chair has to do with the fact that an exercise ball will increase the use of your core, activating the body’s trunk muscles. The instability of exercise balls also is believed to help workers burn calories.

While this all sounds good, the science behind using stability balls as chairs is shaky. In fact, research tells us that the use of exercise balls does little to decrease MSDs. One study found that prolonged sitting on an exercise ball has little effect on how a person sits at his or her desk but has been found to cause an increased level of discomfort. Other studies show no difference in how muscles are activated when sitting on an exercise ball and sitting in a chair.

Still other studies have found that sitting on an exercise ball can cause more problems than it solves and may even cause safety issues. These studies cite the fact that using exercise or stability balls as chairs increases the risk of sustaining injuries since these balls are unstable.

While it is always tempting to try the newest fad or latest trend, using an exercise ball as a chair to prevent MSDs just doesn’t make sense. If you really want to prevent MSDs, you should consider an ergonomic office chair, take breaks to stretch throughout the day and go for short walks periodically to make sure you give your back a rest.