Do you have a hard time working in front of the computer all day? There’s the screen that hurts your eyes, especially if it’s too bright and near. Likewise, your back probably hurts from having to sit around all day unless you use a standing desk or if you prefer to sit a nice office chair.
But have you ever thought about your hands and wrists?
Typing for hours on end can get tiring. Sure, it’s not exactly an intensive workout for your body, but it puts your hands and wrists in overtime; even your arms and shoulders eventually feel the brunt of using a keyboard. If you fail to maintain a proper typing position, you will feel sore in no time.
However, this doesn’t always have to be the case. Are all keyboards designed for maximum comfort and convenience? Unfortunately not — and this is why you need to consider getting an ergonomic keyboard.
What is an Ergonomic Keyboard
As its name implies, this type of keyboard values ergonomics. This is the process of designing the workplace environment and the products employees use to maximize efficiency and safety. Thus, it’s the complete opposite of forcing an individual to adapt to their work – rather it is adapting your workplace to suit you.
An ergonomic keyboard is designed to help relieve stress, particularly around your arms, hands, and wrists. It takes a form that allows you to rest your arms and hands in a more natural manner. Of course, this form isn’t singular — ergonomic keyboards still differ from one another.
Main Benefits of Ergonomic Keyboards
1. Prevent RSI
RSI stands for repetitive strain injury. While the cause isn’t always typing, it’s a common reason. RSI usually involves upper body parts such as your hands, wrists, and elbows — all of which you use for typing. Of course, typing is also repetitive, stressful, and more of than not involves bad posture.
With RSI, you can suffer from a variety of symptoms: stiffness, cramps, aching, and numbness. Ignoring it can lead to longer periods of pain; might even experience swelling for months at a time. Medicine and therapy are necessary to treat RSI, but ergonomic keyboards can help you prevent it in the first place.
In particular, an ergonomic keyboard can help ease carpal tunnel syndrome, which is one of the many forms of RSI. Combine this with an ergonomic mouse and a standing workstation and you’ve already ensured a more comfortable office space.
2. Avoid Harmful Hand and Wrist Positions
There are at least three well-known wrist positions that do a lot more harm to your elbows, hands, and wrists in the long run than you might expect: deviation, extension, and pronation.
Without getting too technical about wrist posture, there are two terms to keep in mind: radial deviation and ulnar deviation. The former happens when you move your wrists and hands closer to your body. If you do the opposite and move them away from your body, it’s known as the latter.
Whether you perform one over the other, the fact is that doing it over and over can lead to injury. This is more the case if you constantly apply pressure while moving your hands toward or away from your body. The deviation occurs whether you’re writing, handling your phone, or typing with the keyboard.
Employees are taught to work in a safe manner to prevent injuries due to wrist deviation. Likewise, ergonomic equipment helps a lot. In the case of ergonomic keyboards, this means that they have separate or curved key rows — allowing your elbows and wrists to angle themselves better.
The wrist is capable of many movements, but one dangerous position is wrist extension.
As long as your wrist bends backward, you’re in a position of wrist extension. Even bending your wrists to a slight degree when typing can be detrimental in the long run. Continued wrist extensions will eventually affect the structure of nerve tunnels, which will then cause you pain.
A design principle applied to combat the effects of wrist extensions is the negative tilt. Think of how regular keyboards enable you to raise their back portion. Some ergonomic keyboards feature the opposite option: You can lift the front portion to reduce the need to bend your wrists backward.
Finally, pronation occurs when you twist your wrists inward. A good example would be when you rest your hands with the palms facing the flat surface. Not all ergonomic keyboards address this, but there are those with a split and vertical design.
3. Ease Stress
Ergonomic keyboards are meant to help you finish your work in a more efficient manner. Their sometimes unusual designs are made for your hands and wrists to feel more comfortable when typing. And if the device positions its key rows well, you won’t have to move your hands at all to reach a letter.
These keyboards can help you save time at work. Even if you do get stuck for long hours, they will help you ease any pain you might feel from typing all day. And if you use the computer for at least 10 or so hours, you should already consider getting one for yourself.
Different Types of Ergonomic Keyboards
There’s great variety in how ergonomic keyboards look. This is primarily due to how each brand has their own approach on tackling work efficiency and wrist pain – there’s even a keyboard with no actual standard keys at all. But for the most part, the following are the usual forms of ergonomic keyboards.
1. Handheld Keyboard
If you’ve ever had a game console such as an Xbox or a PlayStation, you won’t find this type too unusual. A handheld type doesn’t have to stay on a flat surface. You can pick it up anytime you want and keep on typing. There’s no need to position your arms and elbows the same way for hours on end.
In fact, you can even go around the office and place your seat further from the computer and keep on typing. Plus, there are ergonomic keyboards of this type that include mouse control — ensuring that you can type and navigate your computer no matter your position.
2. Split Keyboard
There are two types of split ergonomic keyboards: the fixed and the angled split type. The former features just one keyboard. What makes it different from the regular keyboard is that the keys are grouped into two or three sections.
It’s not just one straight keyboard — each section is angled in a way that’s more convenient for typing.
Then there’s the adjustable version, which is the second type. The angled split-type keyboard allows you to change the angle of each part. This way, you can find the best position that suits your typing style.
3. Contoured Keyboard
This type takes inspiration from the split keyboard design. What sets it apart is its contoured form that minimizes the need to move your arms and wrists. There are at least two sunken sections that match the average shoulder width.
Likewise, the function keys are placed between these parts for easy reach with your thumbs.
Factors to Consider in Buying An Ergonomic Keyboard
Size and Footprint
The type of keyboard for you depends on your work. If you’re going to need the number pad for performing quick calculations on Excel, go for the full-sized ergonomic keyboard.
But if you don’t use the number pad often and you’re more familiar with the keyboards on slim netbooks, choose the smaller variants.
Similarly, picking a smaller keyboard might be better if you work in different places. A portable ergonomic device is much better than having to carry a full-sized variant to the airport or cafe. Then again, a bigger keyboard helps to avoid pressing the wrong button or two buttons at the same time.
What computer do you use? Some ergonomic keyboards work on any of the most popular operating systems, but there are those specifically built with the Windows PC or the Mac computer in mind. Compatibility is a basic but important factor, especially if you’re using an Apple computer.
There are programs that will allow you to configure the keys to work well on a PC or Mac, but it’s arguably better to get a device that’s already compatible with your computer.
Feel and Travel Distance
The old or cheap standard keyboards aren’t the best in terms of comfort and efficiency. More often than not, you’d have to press down with sufficient pressure to make a key type a letter or register an action. A good ergonomic keyboard shouldn’t require you to press down all the time since this gets tiring.
In particular, better keyboards utilize low-force key switches. These switches are highly responsive — the travel distance is drastically reduced. Thus, you get to type more in the same timespan as you would with an average keyboard.
Of course, you can also choose an ergonomic mechanical keyboard. While this doesn’t feature slim keys, its design gives you the best tactile feel. Plus, this type offers splendid durability. It uses physical switches to register a key press and ensures better typing accuracy.
You already have a good idea of how different the forms of each ergonomic keyboard can be when we discussed its common types. But what’s important is how comfortable you are with using one in the long run — and you can only be sure of this through research and experience.
Check the label and the pictures of the ergonomic keyboard. Does it look good to you? Likewise, are its keys spaced in a way that works best for the size of your fingers? Perhaps you’d rather have a singular ergonomic keyboard than one that separates into two parts.
Give yourself two or three days to use the keyboard for several hours. If you’re still uncomfortable with the layout, get a refund or have it replaced.
Many people get an ergonomic keyboard for work at the office. But what if you need one for gaming?
Just like with standard keyboards, there are also ergonomic keyboards specifically made for video gamers. These models usually have dedicated keys and RGB lighting that improve gameplay.
When you use a mouse, it’s often recommended to have a wrist rest to keep your wrists from getting strained. The same goes for using ergonomic keyboards. In order to protect your wrists and elbows from constant stress and RSI, it can be better to have a wrist rest.
A wrist rest isn’t typically included in the package when you buy an ergonomic keyboard, but it’d help you save some money if it was a built-in feature. After all, the regular wrist rest simply won’t work on an ergonomic keyboard that has a lot of curves and angles.
Wired or Wireless
Finally, you have to pick between a wired keyboard or one that connects through Bluetooth. You might think that the latter is undoubtedly the better option, but note that many wired ergonomic keyboards will work through USB ports, and often these are the cheaper options. Plus, there are always cable ties to organize the USB cord.
If you do prefer the wireless variant, you have to check how fast it connects through Bluetooth. There are many devices that don’t immediately detect other Bluetooth devices.
Moreover, the wireless version might cause a bit of lag, which isn’t a good thing if you’re playing intensive online games.
Ergonomic keyboards are built with safety and convenience in mind. There’s no single design that works for each and every user, but it’s a good thing that manufacturers are always open to innovation.
Whether you’re working all day at the office or you need a better keyboard for personal or gaming use, consider getting an ergonomic keyboard. Combined with other ergonomic office products you can take steps to fix the pain and issues you may be suffering in the office.
Of course, note that ergonomic keyboards aren’t the cure to RSI, carpal tunnel syndrome, or continued wrist pain — you still need to consult your doctor for these.
All in all, we hope that our ergonomic keyboard buying guide will help you pick the model that works best for you.
After suffering from many injuries and pains throughout years, Nick started Painless Movement with the hope of helping others discover ways to live a healthier, happier, and pain-free lives. Although not a doctor or physiotherapist, Nick uses personal trial and error and anecdotal experiences to learn about the body and hopefully provide useful information for others who suffer from similar health issues.