Is sitting on an exercise ball just another ab workout gimmick? Over the past decade it has become increasingly common to see exercise balls behind work desks in place of office chairs. The idea is that sitting on an unstable surface delivers a low-grade core workout for as long as you sit, leading to improved posture and, some say, relief from lower back pain.
When a treatment method’s legitimacy is called into question, it makes sense to turn to research. Unfortunately, not much research has been done into the use of an exercise ball as a chair. Most of the available studies have included very small sample sizes and no lower back pain patients. See a discussion of the research updated through 2013 at http://backpainsolutionsonline.com/backpain/lower-back-pain-causes/can-sitting-on-exercise-ball-really-build-strength-evidence-mixed.
Research is still being done into exercise balls, and each new study holds the potential to contribute to a more solid conclusion concerning their use as sitting surfaces. Recently, a study compared the impact of exercise ball-sitting on lumbar multifidus cross-sectional area for participants with lower back pain and those without pain. They found that the area of the muscles increased comparably in both groups, and that the area was even on the right and left sides.
Learn more about the study at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
There are several multifidus muscles in the back; they link vertebrae together and are responsible for spinal stability as well as flexing the back. This is one of the most important muscle groups to target in the treatment of back pain. The above study suggests that sitting on an exercise ball engages the muscle group enough to increase its area (and, importantly, that it does so symmetrically), which can be interpreted as support for the use of exercise balls by those with back pain, and also by people without pain who are looking to improve posture and strength.
Buying a Ball
Affordability is an extremely attractive feature of the exercise ball. Most balls fall in the $10-$30 range, making them a highly accessible pain management option. Another thing to keep in mind is that they can be used in the performance of more rigorous core exercises, meaning you can get more than one use out of them.
While there’s no smoking gun in favor of sitting on an exercise ball in the research, there’s likely nothing to lose by giving it a try. Whether you’re on a mission to improve core strength as part of back pain management or simply looking to avoid the hazards of prolonged static sitting, consider purchasing an exercise ball.