Are Exercise Balls Good For Your Back?

Exercise balls have long been used for physiotherapy and fitness conditioning, making their way into offices and households worldwide. Also known as Swiss balls or balance balls, they can increase core strength, promote good posture, and reduce injury risk. In the long run, they can stabilize your back muscles, leading to greater flexibility and range of motion, explains Spine Health. You can even swap your office chair for a Swiss ball to improve your balance and counteract the harmful effects of prolonged sitting.

When you sit on an exercise ball, your core muscles have to work harder to maintain your balance and stability. As a result, they become stronger. The downside is that you may experience fatigue and backaches after a couple of hours, notes Mayo Clinic. Moreover, sitting on a fitness ball for longer periods may lead to spinal shrinkage and affect arm flexion, reports a 2009 study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics.

However, some say that exercise balls can be a game-changer for people with back pain and other aches. Brogan Driscoll, a Senior Editor at HuffPost, claims that her back pain went away after just a few weeks of using a stability ball as a chair at work. So, should you make the swap as well?

Exercise balls for back pain relief

Over time, sitting for prolonged periods affects spine mobility, leading to neck and back pain (via Keck Medicine). But Swiss balls may be able to help. Due to their unstable surface, Swiss balls challenge your stabilizing muscles to work harder. At the same time, you have to constantly adjust your position to stay in balance, which requires using your core muscles, according to ShareCare. These factors can increase abdominal strength, improved coordination, and better posture.

But not everyone will reap the benefits. For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Hygiene found that sitting on an exercise ball at work reduced pain and discomfort for a little more than half of the participants. The other participants (slightly less than half) who switched actually experienced increased pain. Most experts agree that stability balls can help with back pain when incorporated into an exercise program, but not necessarily when used as a substitute for an office chair.