Thanks to recent publicity in the print media, the internet and vendor marketing, the popularity of using fitness balls as office seating is rising dramatically. Also called Swiss Balls, exercise balls, activity balls, gym balls, stability balls, and physioballs, these devices have been used for years to increase strength and improve fitness during exercise routines. Cited benefits by vendors of using fitness balls for office seating include:
Ergonomics by encouraging proper seated posture and strengthening the abdominal muscles while sitting,
Relief of neck and back pain, and,
Permitting one to sit for hours without fatigue.
One newspaper article is quoted, “The benefits of the ball, which keeps people active while sitting, outweighs the concerns.”1 A vendor in the same article states, “Because you buy a ball that fits your height and your frame and your size you are sitting properly.” In reality, risks associated with the design and use of fitness balls as office seating far outweigh anecdotal benefits cited by vendors of fitness balls as office seating.
Ergonomics is the design of jobs, tasks, tools, furniture and equipment to fit the worker. Fitness balls as office seating are not ergonomic for the following reasons:
Fitness balls fail chair stability requirements and test standards for office seating.4
Fitness balls do not meet adjustability requirements for office seating as published in two known computer furniture industry guidelines.2,3
Fitness balls may not be appropriate for an aging workforce. One medical professional stated workers over age 50 should not use fitness balls as chairs as they could loose their balance and fall off.1 Plus, certain acute or chronic illnesses and certain prescription medicines can affect balance. Serious injuries or worse are possible if a worker falls off a fitness ball when used as office seating.
Fitness balls offer no known physical benefit. A recent study by McGill et al.6 concluded: “prolonged sitting on a dynamic, unstable seat surface does not significantly affect the magnitudes of muscle activation, spine posture, spine loads or overall spine stability.” In addition, McGill and colleagues discovered “some subjects reported discomfort while sitting on the ball possibly related to higher contact area and soft tissue compression.”
Regarding fitness balls as office seating, says Peter Budnick, Ph.D. of the ErgoWeb, “When someone tells you that a $19 ball will solve all of your back pain issues, you ought to be suspicious and when they have the audacity to label that ball ‘ergonomic,’ you should know better.”5
A successful office ergonomic program should include corporate furniture standards guiding what furniture will be provided for employees who use computers as part of their jobs. This standard should only permit furniture into the organization that meets ergonomic and safety guidelines. Fitness balls as office seating do not meet minimum guidelines for ergonomics or safety and should not be allowed in the workplace.
1. The Balls In Your Cubical; New Workplace Trend Replaces Office Chairs With Gym Balls; A Debate Over Health Benefits, Wall Street Journal, February 28, 2007.
2. BIFMA G1-2002 Ergonomics Guideline for VDT (Visual Display Terminal) Furniture Used In Office Work Spaces, BIFMA International, New York, NY.
3. ANSI/HFES 100-2007 Human Factors Engineering of Computer Workstations, Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, Santa Monica, CA.
4. ANSI/BIFMA X5.1 – 2002 General Purpose Office Chairs – Tests, American National Standard for Office Furniture.
5. Ergonomics Today™, On the Ball But Not Ergonomic, April 17, 2006 and Opinion: Balls As Chairs A Bad Idea, April 11, 2005, www.ergoweb.com.
6. S.M. McGill, N.S. Kavcic, and E. Harvey, Sitting on a chair or an exercise ball: Various perspectives to guide decision making, Clinical Biomechanics, 21, pp 353-360, 2006.