Better Posture from a Chair?
Desk chairs have been blamed for many backaches. There are a number of alternative types of chairs currently available that claim to help your posture. These include the saddle seat (shaped like a saddle, usually backless, which you straddle while sitting) and the kneeling chair (on which you perch with legs bent at about 60°, with your knees and shins resting on supports). There is even a chair made of slings that you strap around your back and knees while sitting.
All of these chairs have potential problems—sometimes relieving one ache only to create another—and can be quite expensive (up to $1,500 for some models). According to Dr. Gregory Thielman, assistant professor of physical therapy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, they are of no value in improving posture.
On the other hand, Dr. Thielman is cautiously optimistic about using an exercise ball as a desk chair. These large inflatable balls (also called physioballs or fitness balls) require "active sitting," and are often used by physical therapists to help strengthen core muscles and improve posture. One sure thing: it's hard to slump while sitting on the ball.
Still, there's no solid evidence that sitting on an exercise ball for deskwork is beneficial, and it may be problematic. For instance, the space under your desk may be too small for a ball that's the right size for you, in which case you'll have to lean forward and may fall off the ball. Also, there are no armrests. Sitting on the ball may create problems with the position of the rest of your work station. And in one study, back discomfort initially increased after one hour of use in some subjects, probably because they were not used to sitting on a ball.
Best advice: For work, choose a chair with a good "ergonomic" design—that is, it should have an adjustable back, seat, and armrests. Wheels help, too. However, if you find an alternative chair appealing, don't mind the expense, and are willing to modify your workstation to make the chair fit in, you may want to give one a try. If you work long hours at a desk or drawing board, you might even like to have more than one chair or else an adjustable desk (sit/stand workstation). And don't forget to vary your position during the day: lean back frequently; stand up and move around.
Source: Originally published in The University of California, Berkeley Wellness Letter (May 2011)