Severe back pain may inspire you to remain in bed, but spinal movement provides a more effective form of therapy, says Dr. Burl Pettibon, the chiropractor credited with inventing the wobble chair. Pettibon was not the first professional to realize this. During the 1950s, European physical therapists Elsbeth Kong, Mary Quintin and Susanne Klein-Vogelbach discovered the therapeutic value of exercise balls. The wobble chair and the therapy ball have some similar functions but differ in form.
Wobble Chair Features
The wobble chair features a triangular seat, which facilitates front-to-back, side-to-side, circular and semicircular pelvic movements. Some wobble chairs have arms on each side, whereas others do not. The wobble chairs without arms provide a greater balance challenge than those with arms. Dr. Pettibon also created a high-tech version of the wobble chair, which incorporates vibration training. Vibration training advocates subscribe to the theory that vibrations in the 12 to 60 Hz range benefit hormone regulation, bone, and muscle metabolism. The Pettibon vibration wobble chair offers a variable-speed controller that allows 15 to 60 Hz vibrations, based on the patient's specific needs.
Therapy Ball Features
The round, plastic therapy balls, also called Swiss balls, stability balls, resist-a-balls and exercise balls, range in size from 35 to 75 centimeters. Therapy balls, like the wobble chair, facilitate rotational movement in all directions, but unlike the chairs, they support movements in the seated, supine, prone, side-lying and standing position. Because therapy balls do not come with a flat seat or supportive arm rests, you must rely on your deeper core muscles to maintain your balance.
Therapy balls successfully rehabilitate patients with chronic lower back pain, reports P.W. Marshall, in a 2006 study published in the "Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics." While therapists use seated rotational therapy ball exercises for increasing range of motion and hydrating the discs, the ball's function does not end with lower-back care. Exercise balls provide effective therapy for leg and shoulder injuries. During the early 1990s, the stability ball migrated from the physical therapy clinic to the fitness center, where it now plays a key role, in strength-training, sports-conditioning, flexibility, aerobic and Pilates exercises. The balls, unlike the wobble chair, easily deflate for portability.
Therapy Ball Studies
A search for the phrase "stability ball on the "Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research"" brings up 10 pages of results. In May of 2006, lead author Jacqueline M. Carter reported that 10 weeks of twice weekly therapy ball training had a positive effect on spinal stability in sedentary subjects. In May of 2007, Eric Sternlicht reported that the abdominal crunch on the stability ball stimulated more abdominal muscle activity than the same exercise performed on the floor. Exercise balls and other types of balance training equipment helps athletes develop the proprioceptive awareness -- or awareness of the body's position in space -- necessary for preventing lower body athletic injuries. Therapy ball training improved balance, strength and flexibility in sedentary women, reports lead author B. Sekendiz in November of 2010.
Wobble Chair Case Study
Only one known study, published in 2006, in "Chiropractic & Osteopathy" details the benefits of the wobble chair. Author Mark W. Morningstar, who works for the Pettibon clinic in Washington state, reports of an "elderly male patient" whose herniated disc caused a loss of sensation in his right leg. Morningstar treated the patient using spinal manipulation twice-weekly and wobble chair exercises three times daily for 90 days. Follow-up examinations revealed significant improvements. While Morningstar might report valid results, the wobble chair only has one case study, financed by the clinic where it was invented. Given that the chair is more expensive than the highly versatile therapy ball, exercise caution when purchasing therapeutic equipment.