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Kneeling Chairs & Sitting Balls

Richard Weinapple
Richard Weinapple's picture
Last seen:
1 year 6 months ago
05/30/2009 - 4:03pm
Kneeling Chairs & Sitting Balls
What are the relative merits and disadvantages of "traditional chairs," "kneeling chairs," and "sitting balls" to facilitate a healthy spinal position while seated at a desk for long periods of time (as so many of us must do)?

As well as any recommendations on how to choose a well-designed / constructed traditional chair, kneeling chair or sitting ball, depending on the approach one decides to take?

In regard to my own personal experience, I borrowed a kneeling chair from a co-worker for a couple of weeks, and found that it was much easier to maintain an anteverted (or at least neutral) pelvic position while using the chair.  I believe this improved my lumbar/sacral pain.  I found an advantage was that it was almost impossible to fall back unconsciously into a slouched (tucked) position.  However the overall chair height was not adjustable so it was not a perfect solution for my specific workstation.  I also found myself sliding forward and down a bit on the kneeling chair's cloth covering, as I sat for extended time periods.  This required me in turn to change the direction of my eyes relative to my computer screen, and change my cervical curve (by looking slightly upward, creating a bit of tension at the back of my neck, not an ideal position).

I have not used sitting balls, but I've heard some people recommend using them because they also facilitate a healthy pelvic position while also requiring a bit of positional awareness (probably a good thing) during extended seated sessions.

Finally I've heard it suggested by more than one bodyworker that the key is not so much what position one sits in (within healthy limits, of course) as it is to develop a regular habit of standing up and moving one's body on a frequent basis and then sitting back down in a different position (perhaps having more than one chair at one's disposal if possible).

Many thanks in advance for any useful information and ideas along these lines!

-Richard W.
Last seen:
6 hours 32 min ago
09/10/2008 - 8:36pm
Kneeling chairs and sitting balls are good options for short periods of time. For longer periods I don't recommend either. Kneeling chairs can put a lot of pressure on the knees which then jam the femurs into the hip sockets. Sitting balls don't give you a comfortable, stable base on which you can sit in a relaxed way. I know it is part of the point of sitting balls to exercise your intrinsic back muscles as you sit, but I think it is hard on your psyche to be in constant motion, that sitting should mostly be relaxed and that exercise needs to happen elsewhere. If you are not getting any exercise (oy) then use some of your sitting time, but not all, to do this combo of sitting and exercise.

A good traditional chair should let you go back and forth between stretchsitting and stacksitting. I haven't found an ideal chair yet, but would love to hear from anyone who is happy with theirs. Most chairs can be modified to be decent - towels or blankets or the Stretchsit cushion http://www.egwellness.com/products/Stretchsit_cushion.html help stretchsitting; towels or fleece blankets help stacksitting.

The most important thing is to know how to sit and to have a decent chair- it's not reasonable to expect the chair to compensate for poor sitting technique and neither for your body to compensate for poorly designed furniture. If you sit well in a good chair, it is surprising how long you can go without discomfort or damage to your system. Of course breaks are good, but I think if you need frequent breaks and lots of changes in position you probably haven't found the best possible sitting position. If you are injured, you may not be able to find a great position quite yet; but if you are not injured, don't settle for positions that you couldn't last in for a couple of hours (though I do recommend taking more frequent breaks anyway). Keep experimenting with different wedges and back supports till "aaaahhhh..." - you find something really good.
tenuki's picture
Last seen:
13 years 1 week ago
06/02/2009 - 8:07pm
Anyone tried an aeron chair? Does it mesh well with Esther's method?
LaFemmeNicole (not verified)
LaFemmeNicole's picture
My boss was kind enough to buy Aeron chairs for all of his graduate students about three years ago. My height (5'5" female) falls in between the dimensions for the small and medium chairs, and I've tried both to no avail. I wouldn't recommend an Aeron, even with the more expensive PostureFit feature for "sacro-pelvic" support. Their advertising copy makes it sound like an Aeron could work with the Gokhale method, but my experience with one leads me to the opposite conclusion.

The PostureFit is advertised (http://www.hermanmiller.com/MarketFacingTech/hmc/solution_essays/assets/se_The_Benefit_of_Pelvic_Stabilization.pdf) as keeping your pelvic tilted forward, but given how much the seat and pan overlap, the PostureFit provides vertical "support" beginning at your tailbone. The chair's back reinforces strong lumbar and thoracic curves, and ends around the top of my shoulders, so I can't "hook" myself to the back's edge in stretchsitting without juryrigging the Aeron. Unlike a simple folding chair, there's no open back to easily add a folded blanket or leave room for a properly-tilted pelvis.

Despite the chair's pan and back being separate pieces, they can't be adjusted independently. They claim that this is a feature, not a bug, calling it the Kinemat® Knee-Tilt Mechanism, which allows you to "move at the knees, hips, and ankles simultaneously." It's features like this that lead me to conclude that the Aeron chair was developed to accommodate people who want to switch easily between sitting upright (and leaning forward) and slouching/reclining. Their own advertising copy indicates that it's designed so that people can move from forward-sitting to reclining without adjusting their chair (http://www.hermanmiller.com/MarketFacingTech/hmc/solution_essays/assets/TheKinematicsofSitting.pdf). Its design reinforces the strong lumbar and cervical curves that the Gokhale book criticizes for causing so many problems.

At the very least, don't buy an Aeron without sitting in one for a while and ensuring that it can accommodate YOUR SPINE in stretch or stack sitting.
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