Kinesiology professor shares tips to improve work-from-home posture

By Christopher Bared

Kinesiology professor shares tips to improve work-from-home posture

By Christopher Bared
Enhancing your workspace environment helps your physical health, according to clinical professor Kysha Harriell.

As working from home has become the norm because of the global pandemic, many of us are slouching into uncomfortable positions for hours or leaning face first into online meetings. Over time, poor posture can lead to nagging aches, injuries, or muscle and joint complications. Luckily, these bad habits can be corrected. So, if you’re hunched over your laptop reading this, don’t worry.  

Kysha Harriell, clinical professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Sports Sciences at the University of Miami School of Education and Human Development, offers some tips to optimize comfort and enhance your physical health while working from home. 

“I like to think of posture like car tires,” Harriell said. “The more you use your car, the more wear and tear you get on your tires. And the more you're in a faulty posture, the more likely you are to be doing some wear and tear on the joints in your body.” 

Harriell recently became the executive director of the Office of Academic Enhancement. Prior to that, she was the program director of the athletic training major in the School of Education and Human Development for 15 years. She knows how important good posture is to our health and well-being. Though, she admits that she also struggles to maintain good form. 

“We used to think of injuries from posture as things that happen when you get older,” Harriell said. “But because we are looking down at phones and computers that aren’t properly adjusted, we are seeing these injuries happen a lot quicker.” 

Organizing a workspace properly can keep our necks, backs, elbows, and wrists from aching. Harriell had a few tips for good ergonomics—the science of organizing a work environment and maximizing efficiency.           

“A lot of people have had to adapt lately. You may have a nice ergonomic setup in your office but maybe your children are in the office. So, now you’re in your bedroom in a makeshift office or even on the couch,” she said.

The following are some of Harriell’s tips to keep in mind for a healthy workspace.

  • Desktops are better than laptops because they are positioned closer to eye level.
  • If you only have a laptop, try to prop your laptop a few inches higher so that you do not have to look down at it.
  • If possible, try to get an external keyboard that remains on your normal armrest or desk level. This will help you avoid unnecessary pressure on your elbows.
  • Try to place your laptop no more than 30 inches away from your face so you do not need to lean forward.

“I am aware that not everyone is going to be able to create the ideal workspace right now,” Harriell said, “so I have this easy way to think about it: Keep your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips.”

Keeping this rule in mind will help the entire body function harmoniously. If you are unbalanced in one area of the body, that can lead to discomfort in other areas.

“We see it all the time in sports. When someone has a lower extremity injury, they are more likely to suffer a shoulder injury or elbow injury. The body is a kinetic chain, and it’s all connected together,” she explained.

The neck and back act as our core, according to Harriell. And if those areas are tight or sore, they can affect our lower extremities as well. This means that having an ergonomic workspace is vital to getting the most out of our work and staying healthy.           

Harriell pointed out that it’s very important to take a break and not sit at the computer for long stretches. “I think we have to be very conscious about either standing up for a while and mixing it up. Or going to stretch or making sure we still get some sort of physical activity,” she said.           

Doing the right kinds of workouts can also have a positive effect on our physical health. We should not forget about the “little muscles,” according to Harriell. It is equally as important to exercise our back muscles as it is the front muscles, like the chest and biceps. Rowing exercises, neck exercises, ankle pumps, yoga, and stretching are all beneficial to a healthy kinetic chain.           

“Something I tell people all the time is make sure you’re taking time to stretch,” Harriell said. “There’s no reason why you shouldn’t stretch...give your body a much-needed break by stretching and moving.”           

In the work-from-home era, it can be easy to stay put for too long.   

“Not only are we putting ourselves in these weird positions, but our activity level is lower in general. So, we're going through muscle atrophy, whether we see it or not,” Harriell pointed out.           

As many of us may continue to work from home for the foreseeable future, Harriell noted, “Small things can make a big difference to how our bodies work.”   

Remember her advice, “Keep your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips.”