A weblog dedicated to Ergonomics education, dicussion and debate. This emerging field has the power to transform industry, business and the lives of ordinary people for the better. The Industrial Athlete intends to encourage and document our profession's vision of an ergonomically-friendly future!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Sunday Spotlight: Exercise Balls

If you are relatively familiar with the latest developments in seating trends in the office, then you may have caught wind of the recent craze surrounding exercise balls. Some consultants have recommended their use over the traditional office chair, citing the active use of muscles to keep the worker stable, reducing static postures.

Yet, as an ergonomic consultant with a degree in Kinesiology, I must come out against the use of exercise balls as a seating option in the workplace.

Why is this?

Since this chair lacks back support of any kind, this means that back muscles are in active contractions for up to 8 hours a day or more, leading to fatigue and IMO, the possibility of overuse injuries. Furthermore, the risk of being suddenly startled could lead to a fall, with consequences ranging from an embarrassing moment, to the risk of incurring an acute injury (think hot coffee spilling everywhere, or hitting your wrist or head on a hard surface). The exercise ball has its role within the ergonomic universe though, as part of a well-designed exercise program. Healthier employees make more productive employees; the exercise ball allows core stabilizers to be strengthened through various routines, thus allowing it to a valuable contributor in this context.

As far as office seating goes, a well-designed chair with adjustable height, armrests, and back support will allow the worker to maintain neutral postures. Combined with regular breaks and microbreaks, this allows the muscles and joints to experience the least stress necessary in the tasks they perform, reducing the chance that a musculoskeletal disorder will develop.


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