Is an ergonomic keyboard healthy for the wrists or dangerous for tendonitis?
Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl

Does an ergonomic wireless keyboard promote well-being in the office?

 

The correct typing posture is one of the many foundation stones for more ergonomics at the computer workstation.

Today, keyboards come in a wide variety of shapes and designs. This is where the keyboard effectively has an impact on better typing ergonomics, and should a wired or wireless keyboard be considered? Some users will go even further and wonder what influence the difference between a compact keyboard and an integration of the numeric keypad in the keyboard should have on work ergonomics.

 

For whom is an ergonomic keyboard useful?

ergonomic keyboards are useful for men and women

Some of the target groups for an ergonomic wireless keyboard are continual typists and those who type with the ten-finger system. This group primarily includes administrative employees who do a lot of typing every day, as well as authors, journalists, web designers and anyone who continually composes or answers emails.

However, it should be made clear what an ergonomic keyboard actually is and why it can improve the typing ergonomics.

Everyone knows the classic keyboard, which has evolved from the mechanical typewriter to the modern input device and has been used for decades in offices and at home.

old typewriter one of first computer and keyboard keyboard thin en flat

With this evolution, keyboards have gradually become thinner, the keys flatter and the layout has changed significantly, especially for ergonomic applications. For example, typical ergonomic keyboards have a split layout so that the fingers of the left and right hand can only press the keys within their respective reach. In addition, this split key layout is usually higher in the middle and slopes slightly toward the outside so that the hands maintain a natural posture and are not twisted. Many ergonomic keyboards also have an additional curved extension at the bottom that serves as a support for the wrists so that they are not bent. This protects the tendons and muscles and guarantees a correct typing posture. The hand and wrist are subjected to less pressure in this position, thereby providing better typing ergonomics.

Certainly, there are also some users who have difficulties with a split keyboard, especially those who don’t use a ten-finger system. However, it should also be said here that all those who want to learn a ten-finger system will have an easier time with an ergonomic split keyboard, since it forces the user to only press the keys with the fingers that are within reach of the respective keyboard half.

 

What are the advantages and disadvantages of an ergonomic wireless keyboard?

 

To make these evaluations, I distinguish between the following three types of keyboards and show the advantages and disadvantages of each:

 

  • Normal keyboard
  • Ergonomically divided keyboard
  • Keyboard with or without cable

 

Normal keyboard

 

A normal or classic keyboard has a rectangular shape and is in most cases angled slightly forward. What always amazes me is that many classic keyboards have fold-out feet that can be extended at the back so that the keyboard stands steeper and gets a larger angle of attack. However, this function is completely unsuitable for better typing ergonomics, even harmful, and doesn’t facilitate better ergonomics, but less. The steeper angle of the keyboard causes the wrists to bend unnaturally, which can lead to pain and tendonitis or even carpal tunnel syndrome more quickly. The only advantage I see in this larger angle of attack is the better legibility of the individual key labels. But this advantage is out of proportion to all the disadvantages and suffering that can be generated by this unnatural angling of the keyboard. The first thing I do when I encounter such a keyboard is fold in these feet to guarantee the flattest possible support and thereby better protect the wrists.

Wrist pain caused by a keyboard with feet because the wrists are bent too much

The ideal solution in connection with a classic keyboard is to use a wrist rest, which you place between the front edge of the worksurface and the keyboard. These are available in many shapes and designs. Wrist pads filled with millet chaff are highly recommended. Millet chaff is said by our ancestors to have a calming and healing effect and conforms comfortably to the wrists.

 

There are basically two different versions of the normal keyboard:

  1. keyboard without numeric keypad
  2. keyboard with integrated numeric keypad

 

Keyboard without numeric keypad

ergonomic Keyboard Without Numeric Keypad

An important advantage here is that the keyboard is less wide overall, since the numeric keypad is missing on the right and the mouse can therefore be positioned directly adjacent to the letter keys. Thus, pain in the shoulders can be avoided, since with keyboards that are too wide and have an integrated numeric keypad, the right arm has to be positioned unnaturally far outwards in order to operate the mouse. Left-handed users are preferred in this case and have no problems here.

It should also be said that the mouse is used twice as much as the keyboard and therefore a natural positioning of the shoulders is of primary importance for better work ergonomics and to avoid pain.

Conclusion: If you don’t really use the numeric keypad much, you should look for a keyboard without a numeric keypad, so that more ergonomics and health are ensured.

 

The disadvantage of a keyboard without a numeric keypad is, as explained at the beginning, mainly the too steep placement angle and the fact that the wrists are bent unnaturally.

 

Keyboard with integrated numeric keypad

ergonomic keyboard with numeric keypad

The advantage of such a keyboard can be found in the fact that the numeric keypad is clearly arranged and accessible right next to the letter keypads. However, this advantage is only justified if the numeric keypad is really used a lot, such as for accounting. However, if problems in the shoulders become noticeable, then it is recommended to switch to a narrower keyboard.

Tip: If you work a lot with the number keys on the keyboard above the letters, you should buy a separate number pad. This can be positioned independently of the keyboard and thus guarantees ideal typing ergonomics.

 

The disadvantages of a keyboard with a numeric keypad outweigh the advantages, but unfortunately many people don’t realize this. The integrated numeric keypad makes the keyboard even longer and in most cases the letter keys are aligned with the center axis of the body. This automatically positions the integrated numeric keypad a bit more to the right, which would still be okay as far as it goes. But all right-handed users have the mouse in addition to the number pad, which leads to an unfavorable position of the right arm. The forearm is opened too much and thus moves too far away from the body, which can cause tension and problems in the shoulder and neck area. For more ergonomics, the width to the mouse should be optimized so that the entire body always remains relaxed, and the arm does not move into a cramped or unnatural position.

 

Ergonomically divided keyboard

 

As a conventional keyboard tends to force the hands and forearms into an unnatural position, an ergonomic keyboard supports better work ergonomics and puts the body in the correct typing posture.

An ergonomic keyboard consists of two parts, a left and right keyboard section, which are spaced apart and are higher towards the center than at the sides. This curvature automatically ensures a natural typing position. The hands and wrists are not twisted or bent thereby ensuring good typing ergonomics. As a result, the muscles remain relaxed, the tendons are relieved, and the joints are protected. This prevents pain and general tension, not only in the hands and wrists, but also in the neck and shoulder area.

It is noticeable that ergonomic keyboards do not have the well-known feet of classic keyboards, but on the contrary, there is often a slight elevation and extension in the front area that serves as a palm support. As a result, the fingers are more likely to be tilted downwards when typing. This can counteract typical computer complications such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome or shoulder-arm syndrome.

So an ergonomically split keyboard offers a variety of benefits, especially for people who are typing often and may already be plagued by discomfort.

The disadvantages, on the other hand, are minimal and mainly affect people who work with the two-finger system and have to visually search for the keys. Here, an ergonomic keyboard makes sense, but it requires some getting used to.

What could also be perceived as a disadvantage are fixed split keyboards where the adjustment angle cannot be adjusted. Since every person is unique, customizable settings are an added value for better work ergonomics.

 

Keyboard with or without cable

 

More and more wireless keyboards are in use and are becoming increasingly popular, although there are certainly critical voices to be heard.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a wireless keyboard?

 

  • Advantages of a wireless keyboard
  1. prevents the tangle of cables on and under the desk
  2. gives freedom and flexibility in placing the keyboard on the desk
  3. no too short or annoying cable
  4. the keyboard can be used even a few meters away, e.g. on the sofa, in bed or in any other location
  5. the keyboard can be easily put away while cleaning
  6. if you work with plans or other large documents, you can easily put the keyboard aside
  7. the disadvantage of changing or recharging batteries hardly exists anymore, because some keyboards can be charged directly with a cable or have long-lasting batteries
  8. no cable breakage
  9. those who have gotten used to wireless usually don’t want to do without it anymore

 

  • Disadvantages of a wireless keyboard
  1. the batteries have to be changed or recharged
  2. the battery status is often reported too late as almost empty and one is thus forced to act quickly and often has hardly any time available
  3. gamers mostly want a cable so that they are never interrupted and there is no annoying battery change during a game
  4. there are zero functions when the batteries are empty
  5. batteries can leak and thus damage the keyboard

gamer with keyboard with cable

 

Final thoughts

 

The listed advantages of a keyboard without cables outweigh the disadvantages and the  current trend is definitely that many people who work on the computer every day prefer a wireless keyboard.

On the gamer side, however, it is mostly the other way around, which remains understandable and comprehensible since you don’t want to have problems with the keyboard in the middle of a game.

It’s a fact that an ergonomic wireless keyboard can alleviate or even completely eliminate pain around the wrists, forearms and shoulders. So, if you already have health problems related to your computer activities, you should certainly take the plunge and look for an ergonomic keyboard. Today’s prices of ergonomic keyboards no longer require a huge budget, and the health benefits are quite obvious. The preventative nature of an ergonomic keyboard not only promotes correct typing posture, but reduces tension, pain, and even stress.

 

If the topic of ergonomics in the office or home office appeals to you and you are interested in it more deeply, I can recommend my book “Wellness in the Office”. Combined with humorous drawings, I pass on 50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise.

wellness in the office 50 + 1 tips
50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise

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Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl

Christoph Hohl comes from Switzerland and is an ergonomics expert. For more than 20 years he has been offering many solutions with different products and many tips to provide more quality of life and a greater sense of well-being. SANTERGO is a special piece of this mosaic.