Physical medicine specialists agree that constant sedentary work is definitely harmful to the human body. A well-functioning human musculoskeletal system requires a constant variety of movements. Is it worth substituting a comfortable office chair with the nowadays fashionable and popular sitting alternatives such as balance ball or active sitting chair?
The properties of the ergonomic chair
According to physical medicine and rehabilitation doctor, neurologist, and specialist in manual therapy, Jonas Girskis who has dedicated almost 40 years to the analysis of the human musculoskeletal system: “The invention of a chair and the wheel fundamentally changed human lives, but in addition to the obvious benefits it also caused some damage — it became an enemy of the human natural movement bringing a lot of confusion to the biomechanics of the human body.” Today we are looking for new ways to sit, the internet is loaded with various products and tips, and yet, how should we sit?
Let’s be conservative and firstly discuss what should the chair for the prolonged sedentary work look like. The specialists of the Spine treatment center emphasize that the ergonomic office chair must have a backrest with 10 degrees decline angle and the seat height adjustment function. The height of the seat should be such that the legs would be bent at an angle of 90 degrees. A headrest and adjustable armrests are absolutely a must-have to relieve the neck muscles and the shoulder tension. While sitting the lumbar spine intervertebral disc sustains a 25 percent bigger load than while standing, therefore it is important to minimize such a burden to the spine during sedentary hours.
According to Greta Girskė, consulting physical therapist and the director of the Spine treatment center, a founder of the initiative “For the healthier day at work”, — only ergonomic chairs provide the correct support for the human body during the lengthy sedentary work hours. However, friendly and prolonged sitting for the musculoskeletal system — simply does not exist. The main rule for the prolonged sedentary regime — regularly changing the body position. It is recommended, if there is a possibility, to regularly stand up, walk around, to take the stairs up and down. A preventive visit to a physiotherapist would help you to determine which stretching or strengthening exercises you could perform during the work breaks are the most relevant to you and your individual body configuration.
Sitting trends: balance ball, cushion, saddle and active sitting chair
According to Spine treatment center physicians, not the way you are sitting at work determines how healthy you may or may not become, only a knowledge-based relationship with your own body can help you lead a pain-free life.
Simply sitting on surfaces such as a balance ball, a balance cushion, a saddle or an active sitting chair also counts as a body position changing activity, but it is not as versatile compared to the other, non-sitting activities which activate more diverse muscle groups.
It is useful that while sitting on the balance ball you feel the need to stretch your lumbar spine to maintain balance. Just test yourself — how long could you sit on the balance ball hunching, leaning back, or with your legs crossed. It is important to remember that while sitting on the balance ball, the correct way is to sit at such a height that your legs would be bent at an angle of 90 degrees.
However, sitting on the balance ball is considered a physical exercise during which abdominal, deep pelvic, and back muscles are involved. If you need to strengthen these muscle groups during your workday, it is recommended to sit on the balance ball for no more than 20 min. per session a few times a day. If you will sit on the ball much longer than recommended, the primary muscles will get exhausted and the other muscles will get involved, which will lead to body posture issues. Moreover, if you cannot manage to sit on the ball correctly then do not attempt that at all! In this case, you should find out the reasons why it is difficult for you and work on improving your musculoskeletal system with other specific, targeted and safer exercises advised by the professional physiotherapist.
The Spine treatment center specialists confirm the benefits of a balance cushion for those who experience lower back pain caused by intervertebral disc lesions. If you use a balance cushion correctly, sitting on its soft base reduces the load on the lumbar vertebrae and as a consequence, it will reduce the irritation of the affected area.
Saddle type chair allows you to sit on your ischium bones instead of surrounding soft tissues. It is a good solution for people with impaired blood flow in their legs and/or compressed sciatic nerves. Also, it facilitates much better blood and lymph circulation because it prevents you from crossing your legs. It is sure possible to avoid crossing your legs using an ergonomic chair with the backrest, it only requires self-consciousness and self-control.
When you get a chance, change your regular sitting into some physical activity other than active sitting. Active sitting tools and chairs are not a good substitute for an ergonomic office chair during prolonged sitting. Balance balls, balance cushions/pads, saddle type, and active sitting chairs are recommended only as the body position changing activities during long working hours and should be used for limited time periods or as directed by the physician.