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Donna Goodwin, PT

We know we shouldn’t sit all day, but most of us have to make a living, which in many cases means we’re stuck at a desk – and in a chair – most of the day. Even for the most seasoned office veteran, figuring out creative ways to stand more and combat dead butt syndrome isn’t exactly.... edge-of-the-seat… thrilling.

Replacing the traditional office chair with a stability or yoga ball has become a popular office hack for the health-inclined, but how healthy is it? Besides being far cheaper than a treadmill or standing desk, or new ergonomic chair, some say that sitting on an exercise ball encourages you to keep your core engaged, making you stronger and burning extra calories in the process.

Here’s the blatant truth on this one: the jury is still out. Meaning, even though studies have been done on the effectiveness of using a yoga ball as a chair, there are still issues and all in all, the benefits are inconclusive. As a physical therapist, I see many people who work the 9-to-5 schedule (or longer) at a desk and have issues with posture, pain and more. 

Here is what you need to know about sitting on yoga balls:

  1. We don’t really know how well it activates your core.  There is no scientific evidence that fully supports that the stability/yoga ball enhances core activation.  In fact, some studies indicate an actual increase in lower back pain with yoga ball use for computer/desk work due to surface area contact and fatigue of the spine muscles in trying to hold the unsupported sitting posture.  Other studies report increased circulation, balance and core activation from the movement that is required to maintain sitting upright on a more mobile surface.  Keep in mind that there are many names for the yoga/stability ball including exercise ball, physioball, and Swiss ball.

  2. There are SOME benefits to sitting on a yoga ball at your desk. As an alternative to a standard chair at your desk, balls vary your typical work posture.  Some users have reported increased postural awareness.  There are also certain student/school and pediatric rehabilitation populations that have had benefit in using balls as chairs.

  3. There are precautions to take.  If you do sit on a yoga ball at your desk, be careful not to fall off the ball or trip over it in your office.  There is a ball stabilizer that can be purchased to help with the roll away factor.

  4. There are ball specifics to think about.  The size of the ball does matter relative to the height of the person sitting on the ball.  Good sitting posture on the ball, or in any chair includes having the hips slightly above knee level with the feet flat on the floor.  Ask your physical therapist to recommend the proper size and inflation if you are thinking of using one.

  5. We don’t know if sitting on a yoga ball is better than having a standing desk. Again, research does not support that one is better than the other.  There are circumstances where a person may do better in a standing position versus a sitting position based on medical diagnosis.  It is best to allow your physical therapist to make that recommendation.  More important is the total time spent sitting during the day, regardless of the chair type.  It is best to change from a seated position and move around every 30-45 minutes.  This can include simply standing up, marching in place, doing some overhead arm stretches or shoulder rolls and walking around your work station in order to “reverse posture”. 

  6. Your body desires movement. That means that your body needs and wants to move around, and muscle strength, postural endurance, and gravity all play a role when you are sitting or standing.  It is imperative to get up and move periodically regardless of the chair in order to have good posture.  Bottom line: Don’t just use the yoga ball for sitting…hopefully you can also incorporate some amazing exercises that can be done with it.  Ask your physical therapist to give you a specific program designed for your needs. 

    Donna Goodwin, PT is a physical therapist with OrthoCarolina Matthews.

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