To be honest I have never seen a chair like the Core Chair before. It ‘recreates’ using a stability ball in the office but it almost looks like a regular chair. The Core Chair claims to encourage ‘active’ sitting. And ‘active’ sitting would require more of your core to stabilize the chair (hence the name Core Chair I guess!), which some claim can alleviate lower back pain (more on this below). I’ve done a past blogpost about the value of ‘active’ aka dynamic sitting that you can take a look at here. The Core Chair has built on the framework of a stability/exercise ball that you’d normally see in a rehab or gym because research has shown that stability balls may increase muscle activity that will subsequently increase core stability and strength, which is thought to be beneficial in reducing the incident of low back pain. Bam. There you have it. Can a chair reduce the incidence of lower back pain? Let’s dig into the review of the Core Chair to find out if it’s ‘all that and a bag of chips’. Disclaimer: This Core Chair was sent to me for a review.
Review Of The Core Chair
Well Made Chair. One of the first things that I noticed about this chair (and I have seen A LOT of chairs) is that it’s made from really nice components. The seat pan (part you sit on) has really nice memory foam that is quite comfortable to sit on. It has a sculpted seat pan that at first I thought would add contact stress between my hip breadth and its contours but it hasn’t. According to some research from the University of Guelph, the Core Chair actually has less pressure points compared to a regular ergonomic task chair. The sculpted seat pan also added another level of stability so I never felt like I would fall off the chair in the free float mode. This is in comparison to using a stability ball, where I find it difficult to balance and focus on my work at the same time. On top of that I thought it was promising that there is a twelve year warranty on this chair; if you do the math (cost of the chair per year), it really makes the chair affordable – at least in the big picture.
Lever To Adjust ‘Free Float’ Feature. There is a lever that you can move forward or backwards that adjusts how much instability or free float that you have in the Core Chair. There is quite a bit of movement in this chair, up to 14 degrees in every way. This function is similar to the free float feature in a standard ergonomic chair. However there is much more range of motion in the Core Chair. For instance you can go side-to-side, back-and-forth, really any type of motion that you’d like. There is a bit of ‘elbow grease’ aka force that is needed to adjust this feature which I assume was purposeful as you wouldn’t want to accidentally and unexpectedly put the chair into the free float mode. Wow! I know I would be super surprised! So, this feature allows you to use the Core Chair more like a typical chair instead of like stability ball and some would likely appreciate the break from ‘active sitting’.
‘Active’ Sitting Chair. There is some promising research on ‘active’ sitting. Firstly it reduces static postures. Static postures (like sitting in a chair all day) contributes to the sedentary behaviours aka ‘sitting disease’ that we have all seen all over the media recently – you’ve heard that ‘sitting is the new smoking’ right? Research has found that these types of chairs may be able to increase circulation and even caloric burn (probably just slightly in the grand scheme of things though). Compared to using a normal ergonomic task chair researchers at the University of Guelph found that attention and performance increased too, but you may need to be prompted or reminded when to use the ‘active’ part of this chair.
What About ‘Ideal’ Back Posture? According to the Canadian Standards Association – Office Ergonomic Standard, the ideal back position during seated computer work is between 95 and 115 degrees – aka slightly reclined. With the Core Chair it is impossible to make this adjustment. Reclined sitting is so coveted because it’s the sitting position that is the most similar to standing; standing is so coveted because it places the least amount of strain on the spine. Having the ability to recline the chair’s backrest (and resting your back on it) is also associated with a reduction in muscle activity which means less fatigue and tiredness for the back muscles. This can mean less susceptibility to discomfort or even injury over time. Lastly, increasing the recline reduces disc pressure; a lot of disc pressure is associated with back pain and disc herniations. If you are interested in more information about why reclined sitting is so beneficial for your back you can check out this post that I did.
No Mid-Upper Back Support. According to the Canadian Standards Association, they recommend to use an office chair that has a backrest that at least supports below the shoulder blades. Although the Core Chair offers superior pelvic support, over time (more than 1 hour) my mid to upper back felt fatigued and I found myself slumping forward to type. Keep in mind that I was using an ideal ergonomic set-up so there would be no other reason that I would be slumping. This finding is also supported by this research. The Core Chair is designed to be functionally similar to ta stability ball (aka Swiss Ball or exercise ball) that you would normally find in the gym or in physiotherapy clinics. Some of the research that you can find here and here have not found any beneficial changes in spine stability, strength, or compression or lumbar spine posture while sitting on a stability ball.
Isn’t ‘Dynamic’ Sitting A Good Thing? The big selling point with the Core Chair is to increase the amount of ‘active’ or ‘dynamic’ sitting in the office. Technically speaking this is a good thing because it activates a unique spinal pump mechanism in the vertebral discs. When this is activated it is much better for back health. Many articles have identified that activating this pump mechanism is useful in reducing long-term wear and tear of the discs. You can find a full blogpost that I did on this here. The key thing is that a lot of this research is based on a typical ergonomic task chair where the user changes their backrest angle and/or uses their ‘free float’ mechanism. With this research the back is always fully supported by the backrest.
Cardiovascular ‘gains’. In terms of the BIG PICTURE view of energy levels this chair does increase fidgeting however the amount of fidgeting (aka using active muscles) wouldn’t have a big effect on cardiovascular health as research shows that heart rate does not increase significantly with using the Core Chair. Like I mentioned above you could technically get some of the Core Chair’s functionality by just adjusting a normal ergonomic task chair into free float. To learn how to do this you can check out the eBook: The Ultimate Chair Adjustment Guide.
I would recommend getting a thorough ergonomic assessment before looking at purchasing this chair as the research (and my personal trials) have found that this chair can be quite fatiguing on the back. Many people may ‘jump’ to buying this chair without addressing the ‘root cause’ to their discomfort in the first place. For instance, their discomfort could be because their backrest isn’t positioned optimally or their workstation is too high for them which both could contribute to lower back discomfort. In saying that the Core Chair does use quality components and I know from visiting A LOT of offices doing ergonomic assessments that many people love using a stability ball as a chair. For these people the Core Chair could be a useful alternative that is much more supportive (and probably a lot safer) than just using a stability ball in the office…. but I still recommend getting a thorough ergonomic assessment beforehand.
One Last Thing…
If you liked this post, please share! It helps to get the word out!! If you are interested in more ergonomics info there quick & handy FREE Checklist that outlines the simple tactics that can Jump-Start your in-house ergonomics program. Heck, this will even be valuable to you if you are only interested in your OWN workstation! You can download it here.