Exercise balls, those gigantic vinyl balls seen everywhere from spine clinics to health clubs, are one of the few exercise tools that actually live up to the hype.
In the early 1980’s the exercise ball made the bounce from the rehab setting to the gym setting and has become a regular fixture in most health clubs since. Few pieces of exercise equipment are so simple and yet offer such versatile conditioning.
One great use for the exercise ball is for treating lower back pain.
The instability provided by the exercise ball causes the body to constantly re-evaluate its awareness of its positioning.
This self-awareness of body positioning is called proprioception. The more enhanced an individual’s proprioception, the better their balance and stability. Enhanced proprioception is what separates a fair athlete from a world-class athlete.
For low back pain sufferers, exercise ball training can be an easy way to start moving again while in pain. It also improves strength and posture; encourages spine flexibility; and promotes balance and coordination in core muscle groups that stabilise the spine.
About exercise balls
The first thing to do is choose the right sized ball. A general recommendation is that if you are sitting on the ball, your thighs should be parallel to the ground (or pointing down slightly) with feet flat on the floor.
The first exercise to try if you are new to exercise balls is sitting. Try simply sitting on the exercise ball for 30 minutes at a time while bouncing lightly. This seemingly easy exercise causes the user to continuously work at maintaining their balance while maintaining their position on the ball.
When the upper body is balanced on a stable pelvic base it is called the center of gravity. By balancing on the exercise ball, the pelvis is constantly moving, causing the stomach muscles to be constantly working to maintain the balanced centre of gravity posture. Even a slight change in this posture (such as caused by lightly bouncing) requires constant correction by the core muscles.
The exercise ball can be used to train virtually any part of the body. It is particularly known for back rehabilitation because its results are superior to other forms of exercise. Ideally ball exercises move the spine in safe controlled movements. Aside from strengthening the core muscles, these controlled repetitive movements help to nourish the discs between the vertebra. The movements improve blood flow to nourish the disc and water movement to hydrate the disc.
When not to use
Not all back injuries will respond favorably to ball exercises. The instability the exercise ball introduces can be too hard on some types of back conditions. Exercise ball conditioning is not recommended when:
*The back injury is in the initial acute inflamed phase;
*There is instability in the spine;
*The low back pain is increased when using the ball;
*The individuals is concerned they may fall or feels uncomfortable on the ball.
It would not be wise to attempt to create your own rehabilitation program for an injury to the spine.
It is always a good idea to see your licensed spine health care provider for advice on your program. The exercises recommended will depend upon your specific condition and abilities. As with any form of exercise, proper technique and form are the keys to successful results.