You are starting to see them everywhere… on videos, at the gym, aerobics classes. What are they and how do you use them?

“Swiss balls” as commonly referred to by physical therapists, are also called exercise balls, physio-balls, stabilization balls or fitness balls. These balls have been used by physical therapists for years as part of the rehabilitation process. They were introduced by Dr. Suzanne Klein-Vogelbach in 1909 as a part of physical therapy. Swiss balls of varying sizes are used in treating everything from young kids with disabilities, to professional athletes training after a sports injury, to geriatrics recovering from a stroke.

These balls are especially helpful in treating Low Back Pain, and rehabilitation after spinal surgery. There are many exercises using a Swiss ball that work to strengthen the muscles that stabilize and protect the spine.

Here at C.O.A.S.T. Rehab, we not only use these balls as part of the therapy process in the clinic, but we also recommend them to many clients as an inexpensive tool to use in their own home exercise program. The ball sizes range from 30 cm to 75 cm (approx 12 to 30 inches. Your height determines the appropriate ball size. In general, someone 5’0″ to 5’7″ should use a 55 cm (22 inches) ball. If you are between 5’8″ and 6’3″ a 65 cm (26 inches) ball would be your choice. For example, if you are sitting on the ball with your feet on the floor, the hips and knees should form a 90-100 degree angle. It is also important to make sure that the ball is properly inflated. Balls are inflated according to size and not pressure. You can use a hand pump or an electric air compressor to fill it. Gas stations or tire repair shops often have compressed air. Take care not to fill the ball larger than it’s max diameter, which is printed on the ball. You might find these balls at your local sporting goods store, a medical supply store, or even on the internet.

If you would like to have an individualized exercise program with the Swiss ball, talk to your physical therapist or visit our Santa Cruz Personal Trainer page.