What You Should Know Before Using an Exercise Ball as an Office Chair


An office department using exercise balls as office chairs while working at their desks.

You’re not alone if you’ve thought of swapping your office chair for an exercise ball. People often think they’ll have great abs and a strong core if they make this one change to their working week. Some workers may even use an exercise ball as an alternative to their office chair to try and combat the sedentary nature of their role. However, there are a few things to consider before you make the switch to an exercise ball.

Disadvantages of Using an Exercise Ball as an Office Chair

There are several ways workers can injure themselves when they use an exercise ball in place of an ergonomic office chair.

Potential Soft Tissue or Bone Injuries

Most exercise balls are 55-75 cm off the ground; high enough to cause a significant injury and acute pain when a person falls off the ball. There is little to break their fall, so soft tissue injuries and broken bones can occur. The most dangerous times are when users sit down on the exercise ball, stand up from it, and try to reach for an object. The exercise ball can easily move and the seat disappears from under the user.

Potential Posture-Related Injuries

Some people who use an exercise ball in place of a chair believe it gives them better posture. However, a 2009 study found that people who sat for as little as one hour on an exercise ball had significant spinal shrinkage or slumping in their lower back. It occurs when users move their head and shoulders forward and tuck their tailbone under with their back rounded to help maintain their balance.

While you can buy a Swiss ball that roughly suits your height, a ball can’t be adjusted up or down to suit the height of a workstation or monitor. An ergonomic chair allows office workers to adjust their seated height in centimetres, ensuring their setup is just right and they’re at reduced risk of injury caused by repetitive movements.

Back Pain

An office chair provides back support while an exercise ball has none, so users are at risk of lower back pain. An exercise ball also has no arm or wrist supports like many office chairs have. Sitting in an ergonomic chair all day, office workers are more likely to keep their back and head in a straight line with a better posture.

There's also not enough support for the buttocks and thighs when sitting on an exercise ball, so users are at increased risk of hip joint and leg injuries.

Potential Injuries Related to the Exercise Ball Bursting

Since 2000, the US has recorded at least 47 serious injuries resulting from burst exercise balls. The highest profile case involved a basketball star who fractured both arms when using an exercise ball as it burst from under him while lifting weights. Landing heavily on the back can cause fractures to the spine and coccyx.

While exercise balls are more likely to burst when being used for exercise, it’s still possible that they can burst while being sat on. In an office environment, the greatest risk to an exercise ball is being punctured by the sharp edge of a desk or drawer. Users should ensure that they aren’t wearing any jewellery or have keys in their pocket that can damage an exercise ball. Heat and sunlight can also shorten its lifespan.

Some exercise balls are labelled as burst-proof. While it’s still possible for these to burst, they’re more likely to slowly deflate rather than burst suddenly. Regardless, exercise balls should be kept away from all objects and if the ball’s surface appears scratched, replace it. Don’t try to repair any damage.

Not following manufacturer’s instructions is another way to risk the life of an exercise ball and cause an injury to the user. Exercise balls must not be over-inflated and some may need to be inflated slowly over a prolonged period to avoid stretching the material.

Never use chemicals to clean an exercise ball, as they may cause the material to break down. Read the manufacturer’s instructions on the best product to clean it. Some experts go as far as recommending that a user check the exercise ball with a magnifying glass before every use to identify any weaknesses. The ground beneath should also be checked for any sharp objects.

Increased Fatigue

Maintaining your balance on an exercise ball requires concentration and can result in fatigue. Your core muscles and your brain are working harder than if you were sitting on a chair, so it’s likely you will tire faster. This energy spent trying to stay upright may have been better spent on more productive work.

Employer Responsibility

WorkSafe Victoria has advised that employers who supply fitness balls as furniture workplace seating for employees are not fulfilling their legal duties. An exercise ball is not considered to be a safe alternative to an office chair.

Benefits of Using an Exercise Ball

Many people believe that using an exercise ball all day will result in amazing core muscles, but studies have failed to show significant benefits in core muscle improvements or many calories burned compared to an office chair.

The verdict is that exercise balls should be used for their intended purpose - short-term exercise programs rather than multiple hours of office use. For those still wondering if it’s worth using an exercise ball in place of an office chair, the benefits just don’t outweigh the disadvantages. It would be more beneficial to incorporate an exercise ball into your exercise routines.

However, exercise balls used on a short-term basis can be suitable as physical rehabilitation aids under the advice of an expert.

If you would like to know more about the ideal seating setup for your office, including the use of ergonomic chairs, give us a call on 9240 7066 or contact us online.