TOOLS: Rotate your ball

Subject: TOOLS: Rotate your ball
From: mlist -at- safenet-inc -dot- com
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Wed, 8 Jun 2005 11:55:36 -0400

This message is a follow-up to a thread from a few weeks ago about
Hit the "Next" or "Delete" button now, if you are not interested -- though
eventually your work is likely to be affected.

One of the worst ways to treat the human spine is to keep it largely imobile
for extended periods, with the "tail tucked under" (that is, in the standard
seated posture). Most of us TWs are subject to this situation as a general
condition of our jobs. The effects are overtly subtle and insidious, so
younger folks tolerate the situation for years before noticing that back
pain and stiffness seem to come with age.

A little knowledge could make a difference before it's too late. A little
knowledge actually acted upon would definitely make a positive difference.
Of course, having the sense to *not* lift the back end of that compact car
when you are twenty-five will also have a big, long-term effect... but
that's outside the scope of this missive.

You can alleviate the problem somewhat with special "ergo" chairs and
back-pads (the ubiquitous "granny roll", for example). Some of those
solutions can be very costly, though there are those who argue that it's
nothing to spend over a thousand bucks on a super chair, since it's your
health and livelihood at stake... not to mention the bragging rights (but we
needn't go there :-).

Another solution that is receiving a lot of attention is the exercise ball
(variously called "balance ball", "Swiss ball", Pilates ball, etc.) as

If properly sized to the user, the ball's chief advantages are:

- cost much less than a good chair

- keeps you (especially your spine) constantly mobile

I'd argue that the second is the more important. So, there you are, looking
and feeling slightly silly, sitting on a big ball. In order to stay
balanced, you are
constantly moving, just a little. While most chairs encourage slumping of
some sort, the ball discourages it, and encourages an erect posture. If you
shift a foot, even slightly, the rest of your body needs to adjust, to
remain balanced on the ball. The same occurs if you move an arm, tilt your
head, and so on. Some sources have reported that this constant, slight
motion, over a year, results in a net weight loss. Very few of us would
consider that a disadvantage.

However, the big change is that your spine is constantly in motion, as are
all the muscles that attach. Those that act primarily in a supporting role
are soon strengthened. They also benefit from slight changes in length, that
help get nutrients in and wastes out. There is another set of tiny muscles
arrayed along the spine, that were formerly thought of as just more "junior"
supporting muscles, with a minimal role (due to their small size) in
twisting, turning and staying erect. It turns out that their real purpose
may be proprioceptive feedback. They don't so much lengthen and shorten to
accomplish work, as they *are* lengthened and shortened by the least little
movement or shift of forces, and their nerves report the changes. So, they
are a major method by which your body senses its position, orientation,
etc., and the ones attached to the lower spine can become crippled and
atrophied from years of immobile sitting. The ball changes that, which
translates to balance and capability in other aspects of life.

I've been using one for a few weeks now, and already notice the positive
differences. Not only do I feel better and more alert, but I also feel more
securely balanced on my bicycle (on the road... I don't use my bike as yet
another esoteric seating option... admit you were thinking it...)

I also notice that the ball doesn't have an axel, so whenever I need to move

about my cube, I have to rise first. That's a minor inconvenience, and
probably a good thing for my health. Swivelling in place is possible, but
tends to swivel the ball, too, so it rubs on the floor, making rude noises,
and scuffing the surface (of the ball, not the floor). Thus, it's a good
idea to get in the habit of rotating the ball every time you are about to
sit, to keep the wear even.

There. Took me a while to get to it, but ... rotate your ball. :-)

This message brought to you as a public service, though it might contribute
to reducing the income of a chiropractor near you.


PS: Some will mention those ball-chairs, or the stabilizer rings that can be
placed on the floor to keep your ball in place -- those still work, but they
do diminish the effectiveness of a free-range ball (any work that your butt
and spine don't have to do is work that they won't do, and thus won't
benefit from)... those items also add cost.

PPS: Another benefit, for those who wear cuffed shorts, is that sitting on a
ball doesn't tend to fold down the cuff on the back hem of your shorts the
way chair-sitting does. So, some of the dignity you lose by sitting on a
big orange ball is regained by not walking around with your cuffs rolled
down in back.

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