Active Sitting for a Healthy Back
Back pain is one of the most common and the most debilitating medical ailments currently plaguing our population. As lifestyles become increasingly sedentary, movement and back health are becoming more and more important. Awareness is moving into the forefront of peoples’ consciousness as they strive to maintain and improve their health. Mobility important as people age.
Research in cellular biology has shown that the cartilage cells of our inter-vertebral discs are unable to receive nourishment from normal blood supply but rely instead on movement. Normal, healthy discs are fed and oxygenated by the constant recycling of the disc fluid that occurs with normal spinal joint movement. This joint motion sucks-in fluid filled with oxygen and nutrients and pumps out waste fluid. This process of fluid diffusion is greatly affected by internal disc pressure (intradiscal pressure). If this movement is lacking, the spinal discs will gradually lose their elasticity. Cartilage cells begin to die off starting from the centre and gradually working outwards. This process may often lead to an eventual prolapse ("slipped disc") with its associated severe back pain.
One of the most popular ways prescribed to increase joint movement is exercising on a stability ball. These balls are lightweight and affordable, making them an attractive option for the average consumer.
Along with the popularity of stability balls used as fitness equipment, there is also a growing movement toward using balls as chairs. This is particularly evident for office workers. Workers using conventional office chairs and computer furniture often suffer from pain in their lower and/or upper back, due to a lack of movement and high-compression loadings on their spine. Greater compression comes from repetitive, harmful activities such as bending, lifting or twisting – even prolonged sitting can create abnormally high levels of disc compression. Decreased hydration occurs when more fluid is pushed out of the disc, rather than, pulled into the disc. This slowly creates a deflated or dehydrated disc. The medical term for this lack of disc fluid is Disc Desiccation. This is the MRI finding most commonly used to identify Degenerative Disc Disease. (Large stability balls) are about the right height for an office chair. This gives the worker the option to engage in Active Sitting. Active Sitting is essentially exercise at one’s office desk. This provides an opportunity for improved fitness for anyone who sits for the majority of their work day. Using a dynamic seat instead of a conventional chair introduces activity into the daily routine. It incorporates ergonomic seating into one’s workplace. The result is improved posture, balance, circulation, core strength and productivity. Simply by sitting on the ball and adjusting one’s body to the subtle bounce, sway and tilt of the ball, deep core muscles are engaged. These constant small adjustments build the endurance and strength of the postural muscles which facilitate optimal posture. The bottom line is: active sitting allows a person to experience the health benefits of movement while seated.
A Brief History of Stability Balls
What are now commonly known as Stability Balls originated in 1963, when an Italian manufacturer, Mr. Aquilino Cosani, started producing large toy balls made of durable, burst resistant vinyl instead of rubber. Mr. Cosani developed a special technique for manufacturing these large, colourful balls sold under the brand names Gymnastik or Gymnic, and began selling them throughout Europe.
Shortly thereafter, an English physiotherapist named Mary Quinton discovered these Gymnastik balls while in Bern, Switzerland and began integrating them into her intervention treatment programs for newborns and infants with Cerebral Palsy.
It wasn’t until Dr. Susan Klein-Vogelbach; the founding director of the physiotherapy school in Basel, Switzerland was introduced to the balls that their use with the adult population had its origin. She was the first individual to utilize these balls in the 1960’s with adults, particularly those having orthopedic problems.
Despite their Italian origin, it was American Physical Therapists who eventually coined the term “Swiss Balls” (as they are also known), because these therapists witnessed the use of the balls while visiting several Swiss clinics. Finally, in 1989 a physical therapist named Joanne Posner-Mayer began instructing US therapists on the neurological, orthopedic and fitness applications of stability balls. Today, athletic trainers, strength coaches, personal trainers and physical therapists around the world use stability balls in fitness and rehab programs.
Over the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in the use of stability ball workouts in mainstream community gyms and fitness programs. Training has become more portable, allowing exercise specialists to take clients outdoors and coaches to integrate training into their specific sport environment (track, rink, field, etc.). Contrary to many fitness tools on the market, a stability ball is a multi-use piece of fitness equipment that’s affordable and accessible to a wide range of users – making sticking to an exercise program much easier for those who traditionally have troubles getting to a gym or don’t have the money or space for expensive and cumbersome equipment in their homes.
Current trends in exercise and fitness focus a lot on "core strength," which refers to the muscles of the abs and back and their ability to support the spine and keep the body stable and balanced.
To appreciate the power of stability ball training and its importance to core strength, just consider that the body functions together as a unit. Various muscles contract to help produce movement, balance the body, stabilize the spine and hold the body in a safe, neutral position. All of these muscles reduce the compression that contributes to disc degeneration. Most of the body’s movements are initiated and supported with the core muscles. Good back health is ensured by making these muscles strong.
Through the act of integrating stability into fitness environments, sitting on stability balls both within and outside a fitness environment has been found to be highly effective in engaging the core muscles.
Problems with Stability Balls as Chairs
Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers to using a stability ball as a bona fide substitute for an office chair is the instability. This is what makes it attractive as a fitness tool. Sitting stationary on the ball provides core strengthening exercises and crucial movement for disc fluid uptake. The balls don’t have a means for the user to swivel and navigate his/her workspace, as is typical in a modern office. The lack of a stable base under the ball may present a hazard when getting on and off them.
Despite some concerns, the demand for ball chairs is still high. Manufactures have addressed the aforementioned issues. They are finding ways to produce hybrid ball/chair devices that offer both the base stability and ease of navigation, as well as, the core strengthening and stabilization benefits of a fitness ball.
Ball Chair Revolution
One of these manufacturers, Posture Perfect Solutions, created the Evolution Chair. The chair’s initial market was as an alternative ergonomic seating solution for dental hygienists. This is one profession who spends much of their day sitting on operator stools without effective support for their backs. Traditional dental operator ergonomic chairs are designed to support the body, but they don’t use the body to support itself This design trend of supporting the body in a particular position, rather than increasing the body’s ability to support itself is one of the key differences between ergonomic chairs, and stability ball chairs. By integrating a stability ball into a chair base, the Evolution Chair promotes more balanced muscle activity between the abdominal and lumbar regions. It supports the development of core muscles which promotes a healthier posture. It reduces spinal compression and the head forward position. This is caused by leaning forward in standard chairs and on stools.
Since its entry into the market in 2004, the Evolution Chair has been embraced by many fields – dental, fitness, physical, chiropractic, massage therapy and ergonomic communities, to name a few. They have endorsed the Evolution Chair as a medically sound way to integrate movement, improve core strength and back health.
copyright Evolution Chair 2004