One of the most common causes of back pain is poor posture. The modern lifestyle surrounds us with computers and televisions, encouraging many of us to be seated for the majority of the day. Unfortunately, most of our furniture is not designed to encourage proper posture, and most of our schedules do not include time for exercise programs that keep our core muscles strong enough to hold the spine in its proper position.
Fixing postural back pain is usually possible by making a few simple adjustments. One of the best things you could do for your back is to change what you sit on. Special ergonomic chairs are on the market to correct the problem of slouching, but most of these are well over $100. If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, you can’t do better than the exercise ball.
While sitting on an exercise ball, you are actually getting a workout. Your core muscles are engaged to help facilitate balance and hold the spine upright. One of the leading causes of poor posture is a weak core. Strengthening abdominal, lower back and hip muscles will help you maintain proper posture throughout your daily activities, whether sitting, standing or moving.
Muscles can become tense if you don’t change positions frequently. On an exercise ball, you need to adjust your position every time you move – to answer a phone, to reach for a remote, or to turn around. This keeps the blood flowing and the muscles more elastic.
Muscle memory retains postural information. After repeating an action several times, signals are stored in the brain that will be sent out to the body the next time the action takes place, requiring less effort of the body to perform it. This is an unfortunate thing when it comes to poor posture; the brain learns it and trains the muscles to assume a state of tension or laxity when sitting. Fortunately, you can retrain your muscle memory. This is another reason why posture is likely to improve from sitting on an exercise ball when you are standing and moving around.
If you have an unconditioned core, you may wish to start slow with the exercise ball, since it will work your muscles out. Overuse can cause muscle strain, the kind you might experience if you did too many crunches.
Exercise balls are much cheaper than ergonomic chairs, running in the $20-$80 range.
Besides getting a passive workout while sitting, you can use your ball to get a more rigorous workout or stretch in. Lying on the ball face up is a great way to stretch out your back and loosen joints, especially in the morning when joints are stiff.