Every now and then I will get the patient who asks whether sitting on a swiss ball/fitness ball is good for their posture at work and better than a chair.  The answer I commonly give them which is based purely on my experience as an Osteopath and someone who has performed 1000’s of ergonomic risk assessments is that it can be both good and bad.  Why can it be both good and bad?  Well, many patients and workers often believe that sitting on a swiss ball/fitness ball will mean that they will automatically have good posture.  They also believe that it will strengthen their core.

Will sitting on a swiss ball/fitness ball mean I have better posture than sitting in a chair?

It is just as easy to adopt poor posture from sitting on a swiss ball/fitness ball as that of a chair.  Often I will observe workers sitting directly on top of the swiss ball/fitness ball.  When one does this, they are often likely to adopt a slouched posture.  Those workers who do adopt an upright neutral spine posture often will only do so for short periods of time.  Sitting on the swiss ball/fitness ball requires more effort and concentration and often as the day progresses, ones concentration lapses and it becomes tiresome to sit upright on a swiss ball/fitness ball.  That is why I only ever recommend the worker to sit on a swiss ball for short periods frequently throughout the day.  Never have I recommended using only a swiss ball/fitness ball in the office environment.  I will always have the client using both a ergonomic office chair and swiss ball if they persist on wanting to use a swiss ball/fitness ball.

Showing the client how to improve their seated posture on a swiss ball/fitness ball

Rather than have your client sit directly on top of the swiss ball/fitness ball, have them roll forward slightly so that they are sitting just forward of the top of the ball.  This will often tilt their pelvis and put their position into a more neutral position.  The individual who uses a swiss ball/fitness ball will often be placing more weight through their feet compared to that of the individual using an ergonomic office chair.  They individual who uses the swiss ball/fitness ball will also be working harder to maintain an upright seated posture compared to the individual who is sitting on an ergonomic office chair.  The ergonomic office chair that has a back rest tilt of 110-120 degrees has been shown to reduce disc pressure to lower than that of standing.  Often I will have the worker adjust their backrest of their chair to approximately 5-15 degrees past the upright position so that the back rest can take some of their body weight.

What Does Worksafe Victoria Say?

Worksafe Victoria has published a document on why the Fitness Ball is Not Suitable As A Chair.  Click here to read it.  They report that there is little if any evidence to suggest that the effect that swiss balls have in exercise and training makes them suitable for use on a daily basis as a seat at work.  They also make the point that the swiss ball which can provide an exercise opportunity should not be confused with the requirement to provide suitable and safe workplace equipment.

Worksafe Victoria report that in situations where the treating health professional  (osteopath, physiotherapist or chiropractor) recommends the use of a swiss ball at work following a work injury, they should make recommendations in a documented and supervised training program that is part of their return to work plan.  This documentations should include recommendations about the length of time over a day, duration of use and frequency of use.  It is also recommended that prior to incorporating a swiss ball into the work environment, that a workplace risk assessment be undertaken to determine the suitability of its use within the office.

When it comes to using a swiss ball in the workplace, there are a number of hazards reported by Worksafe that include:

  • The initial upright posture adopted by the worker often changes over a long period of sitting because there is no full seat or back support.
  • Upright postures are not able to be maintained during tasks that require reaching or moving around.
  • Employees cannot swivel or navigate around the workstation.
  • Getting on and off or reaching from the ball may constitute a falling hazard.
  • The sitting surface does not provide adequate support for the buttocks and thighs.

This blog was written by Osteopath Heath Williams.  Heath is the director of Principle Four Osteopathy and Corporate Work Health Australia.  Principle Four Osteopathy is one of Melbourne City CBD 3000 leading Osteopathic clinics.  The clinic is located in the heart of the Melbourne CBD at 29 Somerset Place (near the corner of Little Bourke & Elizabeth St).  Appointments can be made by calling 03 9670 9290 or booking online @ www.principlefourosteopathy.com.

Corporate Work Health Australia is a nationwide Occupational Health & Safety Company that provides ergonomic and manual handling consulting, risk assessments and training.  All of our trainers and assessors are registered osteopaths and physiotherapists.  To find out more about our services, please go to www.corporateworkhealth.com.

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