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Want Stability? Exercise with Swiss balls

Do you want to work on your stability and get a workout at the same time? Exercising with a Swiss ball could be the solution you’ve been looking for. In this article we will look at the best ways to use a Swiss ball (sometimes known as a stability ball or Yoga ball) to improve your health.

The stability ball is a piece of exercise equipment used for strength training, improving balance and core stability. It is popular not just with chiropractors but with many sportsmen and women who understand the benefits of this form of training.

You may have seen people simply sitting on Swiss balls at their office desks instead of using a chair. In fact, I am often asked if using a stability ball at work is a good idea. People see that there is chance to work their core during a time of the day that is typically considered to be sedentary, so feel that there is potential for improving strength as well as health and posture by using one. We all know that having stronger abdominals and a better core helps to protect the lower back and reduce pain. So it should be a great idea, right?

Unfortunately, not all the time. There are some drawbacks to a Swiss ball that you should be aware of. If you have been having chiropractic treatment and have been told you need to improve your posture because you normally sit with flexion in your lumbar spine and lots of forward head carriage, then a Swiss ball may sound appealing. From the bad posture in the office chair, you may manage to sit with good posture on the ball for 5 minutes ( if you are lucky). But the reality is that for the rest of the day, when your attention is on work rather than spinal alignment, you will naturally return to an incorrect position on an unsteady surface.

A study in the “Journal of Canadian Chiropractic Association” by chiropractors Larry G. Merritt and Celynne M. Merritt showed that two people who reportedly suffered from lower back pain improved when they began consistently sitting on a stability ball.

However, I find that a lot of the people I see suffering with lower back pain do not have the core muscles to sustain the increased amount of workload required to sit properly on a stability ball as an office chair.

What I do find useful is to have a low back “support”. I have put support in ” because that is what it should provide you – support. Sitting correctly does require you to practise. You need to be conscious of your spinal position and what the muscles are doing around your trunk. All of this takes time to become normal for you. Here are some key points to bear in mind:

Drawbacks of a Swiss ball

  • The ball doesn’t have any arm rests to help support some of the load of the body
  • Your lower back has no support so muscle around your spine may get tired after only a short period
  • The ball may be the correct size for you but that may not be the correct size for your worktop/desk space
  • Using a Swiss ball is about creating instability, so if you already have balance issues it may be too much for you initially
  • The ball could roll away

Proper Sitting Techniques

Sitting badly on any type of chair or surface that promotes bad posture for a long period of time can change spinal function and cause recurring back and neck pain. Speak to your chiropractor and they will recommend that when sitting you should have your feet shoulder width apart and flat on the floor. Sometimes a foot rest is useful to help keep the feet in contact with the floor. Your knees should be lower than your hips and you should sit towards the back of the chair whilst maintaining a gap between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knees.
In a sitting position, your lower back should maintain its normal curve and you should sit tall through your chest bone with your shoulders relaxed down and back. Your chin should be tucked back not down or up but straight back as if a piece of string was pulling you back through your mouth. When you look at your computer, your gaze should be aimed at the top of your screen. Keep in mind that you might just as easily slouch on a stability ball as you would in a chair, so practise good posture regardless of the seat.

 Getting started with your stability ball

If you are between 4 feet 11 and 5 feet 4, select a ball that is 55 cm in diameter. If you are between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 11, use a ball that is 65 cm in diameter. If you are over 6 feet, choose a ball that is 75 cm.

Start slowly when you first begin using a stability ball. Just 1 – 2 minutes at a time can be enough in the first few days, before you steadily build up your strength. Ensure that you retain good posture throughout. Remember: without a low back support you are likely to work the trunk support hard so try not to contract the muscles around the low back too hard. The trick is to sit upright and well but stay relaxed in those muscles. Your muscles will build strength and endurance and it will become easier for you to sit correctly for longer.

You should also seek approval from seniors before bringing your ball to work.

What else can I use my ball for?

Sitting is not the only exercise that can be done on the ball. It is a great piece of equipment to have and there are so many exercises that you can do with them. Like any new exercise routine, you should always consult a qualified professional first.

If you are a Lushington Chiropractic patient in Eastbourne, why not seek help from Oliver Ody.