The most commonly cited ailments in an office work environment are back pain, as well as shoulder and neck tension. However, another ailment frequently caused by working with a mouse or keyboard is pain in the wrists, also known as carpal tunnel syndrome or tendovaginitis. Due to excessive strain on the fingers, inflammation or swelling occurs in the area of the forearm and hand which presents as redness. In the beginning, this pain is only felt during movement, but later it can lead to extremely painful conditions even when the fingers are at rest.
In this article I show several possible remedies for these problems and explain in detail the features of ergonomic wrist rests for mouse and keyboard.
Cause of tendonitis in the office
Tendonitis is classically caused by the constantly repetitive movement of the fingers which leads to an inflammation of the tendon in the region of the hand and forearm. Most often, when typing or clicking, the wrist has an incorrect posture and is in a “bent position.” Over time, this can manifest as pain in the fingers and parts of the hand. Tingling or radiating pain down the arm is also possible.
Other causes of wrist pain exist, such as arthritis or osteoarthritis, as well as accidents suffered, such as fractures and sprains.
However, most wrist pain is caused by incorrect posture, overloading of the fingers and a lack of an ergonomic wrist rest. This can be prevented by not ignoring the pain and actively doing something about it. However, by continued typing on the keyboard and clicking of the mouse, a chronic problem is sure to follow. The sooner a solution to tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome is found, the easier the recovery will be with, in many cases, a full recovery. Helpful are ergonomic wrist supports for office work which are available both for typing and for working with the mouse. The choice is very wide, and it is not always clear which wrist rests or palm rests are effectively ergonomic and really provide a good benefit.
How do wrist rests work?
An ergonomic wrist rest prevents the wrist from bending, thus avoiding inflammation of the tendons. When using a wrist rest the wrist forms a horizontal line with the forearm.
To avoid tension or unnatural angulation of the wrist, an ergonomic wrist rest for the mouse and keyboard should be at least one finger width thick. However, it also depends on the mouse or keyboard used. The higher these are, the more the wrist is bent and the greater the risk of tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Since there are many different varieties and shapes of mice and keyboards, it is really important to make sure that there is no bend of the wrist and that it forms a horizontal line with the forearm. Wrist rests with a variable thickness are ideal, allowing you to adjust the thickness as needed.
An ergonomic wrist rest relieves pressure on the tendon sheaths and thus takes away the tension in the tendons.
Types of wrist rests or palm rests
Wrist rests differ not only in their various forms, but also the composition of the outer and inner materials, the hardness of the rest, thickness, air permeability, color and finally the possibility of cleaning.
There are many differences in the outer and inner material of an ergonomic wrist rest. There are versions that consist of only one material, but most wrist rests have an outer material layer and an interior layer of filling. On a cautionary note, many ergonomic wrist rests are made of synthetic material, which can cause allergic reactions for sensitive skin or sweating.
From synthetic to sustainable materials
Imitation leather is made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and serves as an imitation of real leather. Imitation leather can be very close to real leather in feel and appearance, and in some cases can hardly be distinguished from the natural product. Imitation leather is much cheaper than real leather and has great robustness, good elasticity and is available in many colors and surface textures. A major disadvantage is the lack of breathability, which when resting human skin on the wrist rest can quickly lead to sweating.
Is a synthetic material which is very tear resistant and elastic. It feels silky and has breathable properties. Often nylon is processed in combination with other materials.
Is a particularly tear-resistant fabric which has high elasticity and good properties for bonding or welding. In textiles or fabrics, Elastollan is used in combination with other synthetic materials, such as polyester or polyether.
Microfiber is an easy-care and durable material, which is mainly made of polyester. It feels soft and the fabric has the property of breathability.
TREVIRA (flame retardant fabric)
Trevira is made of polyester fibers and is a fabric that is flame retardant without the need for subsequent treatment or impregnation. It is a popular textile for hospitals, event facilities, the office chair sector and also for the automotive industry. Trevira is available with different structures and in a wide range of colors.
Gel is a material similar to “pudding” and originated from the name “gelatin”. It is often used as a filler or in the preparation of medicines or in food products. Gel is soft and malleable, but not breathable.
The milky latex is extracted from the sap of rubber trees and can be processed into rubber. Rubber is a very stretchy and elastic material with water-repellent properties. Over the years, however, it can become brittle and fragile.
Cotton is obtained from a natural vegetable fiber and finally spun into yarn. Cotton is not only pleasantly soft, tear-resistant and elastic, but can be washed at high temperatures and easily dyed.
Wool is made from a natural animal fiber, usually from sheep. Wool is an ideal insulator of heat and at the same time has a thermoregulatory property that wicks away moisture much faster than cotton.
Linen is produced from the flax plant. Linen has a stain-resistant property, is robust and has a cooling effect.
Tencel is a novel and at the same time ingenious fabric that feels as soft as silk, yet remains elastic and has great tensile strength. Due to the many positive properties of Tencel, fabric specialists are already talking about a “comfort fiber”. Tencel is a 100% natural material and is extracted from sustainably farmed eucalyptus trees. Tencel is also an amazingly ecological material, using 10 times less water in its production than cotton, and the fiber is completely biodegradable. Tencel has an ability to neutralize odors, such as sweat and is washable up to 30° C. In addition, it has a thermoregulatory property with a cooling effect when it is warm and conversely it feels pleasantly warm when it is cold. The Tencel fabric is further said to be very skin-friendly and is thus also popular with allergy sufferers.
Wood is one of the oldest materials used by mankind and a completely natural raw material. Wood comes in different hardnesses, colors and has the advantage of being very strong and easy to work with. But wood always feels hard.
This is a plastic that has many pores in its structure, which keeps it very light and highly malleable. In the production of foam, different components are mixed together, which permits different qualities of foams to be obtained.
Memory foam reacts sluggishly to pressure and adapts to the stressing shape. After a load, memory foam returns to its original shape. Memory foam is especially popular in anatomical mattresses or in certain sports shoes. One disadvantage of memory foam is that it generates heat.
SMALL PLASTIC BEADS
Plastic beads are made from synthetic resins or plastic. Different sizes, colors and shapes can be created.
Millet is a cereal and belongs to the family of sweet grasses. The millet chaff is the protection around the grain of millet. So it is the husk around the millet grain. Since the millet chaff shells are round, small and smooth, as a filling material in a pillow, they have an ideal property to adjust under load. This makes millet chaff a popular filling material for pillows and ergonomic wrist rests. Since the millet plant absorbs many minerals, millet chaff has a calming effect and has a positive effect on tension. Millet chaff is 100% natural, breathable and thermoregulating. Certified organic millet chaff is also available.
Fixed or movable wrist support?
Most wrist rests for computers are designed so that they cannot be moved on the office desk. This is sometimes desirable if few movements need to be made with the mouse. Fixed wrist rests are also widely used in the gaming sector because people always play from the same position. Another reason for an immovable wrist rest can be the speed of the mouse, i.e., when the DPI value is high the mouse must only be moved minimally to move the arrow.
When typing with the keyboard, the same position is often desired as well and so a fixed wrist rest seems to be ideal. With a trackpad or a trackball, only the ball is moved and thus a fixed positioning is a must for such devices.
Which type of wrist rest is basically the best from an ergonomic point of view? A fixed or a movable pad?
In ergonomics, it has long been known that movement is a magic formula and thus an important solution to many typical office ailments. Especially in the case of problems with back pain, neck tension, headaches and also shoulder tension, ergonomists and workplace safety specialists encourage people to move more. Certainly, the necessary ergonomic aids are also part of it, such as an ergonomic office chair, a correctly positioned and adjusted screen, additional ergonomic products such as a laptop stand, a vertical mouse or even an ergonomic wrist rest for the mouse and keyboard.
Since additional movement of the wrist has a very positive effect, this should be encouraged as much as possible. The effects for more movement with the hand can also have a positive effect on the arms, shoulders, and neck, as the human body functions cohesively. Additional movement generally causes a greater sense of well-being, even if these are sometimes only micro-movements. From an ergonomic point of view, it is absolutely advisable to choose a movable ergonomic wrist rest and avoid fixed and rigid postures at the office workstation.
What hardness should an ergonomic wrist rest for computers have?
With an ergonomic office chair, care must be taken to ensure that the seat cushion has a certain softness and that it has no edges anywhere, so that good blood circulation is maintained. With an ergonomic wrist rest for the mouse and keyboard, the same concept applies. So, if the wrist rest is too hard, on the one hand, it can affect blood circulation, and on the other hand, it can also inflame and redden the skin with prolonged use. Over time, this can change into a chronic condition and cause constant pain when a load is applied. Therefore, a wrist support for office work should ensure that it is not too hard and does not cause pressure points.
A wrist pad that is too soft, on the other hand, is also counterproductive, as the required support function is lost and permits so much sagging that the hard surface or edges poke through.
The ideal ergonomic wrist support is not completely hard nor super soft, but a perfect balance which possibly even allows for hardness regulation.
How wide and deep should a wrist rest be for mice, keyboards and laptop?
The width of the rest for the mouse should be such that the wrist can be well supported. A palm rest that is too wide doesn’t make much sense, since you can only come into conflict with other objects on the desk.
The depth should be a maximum of one hand width. Better a little less, but still so that the wrist is well supported over the entire surface and not just at one point.
For the keyboard, it depends whether a numeric pad is included or not. Certainly, the wrist support when typing must not be too short and if the number pad is present, it must also be included in the width of the palm rest. If the wrist rest is too long, it can possibly be used for the mouse at the same time. This can be the case with short keyboards and a simple mouse, such as often used with Apple products. However, a wrist rest that is too wide does not make sense if other devices or objects are blocked by it.
When it comes to depth, the keyboard should not be pushed too far away, but an ergonomic wrist support for typing should be a maximum of one hand width deep. Slightly less depth would be advisable because the keyboard should be placed as close to the body as possible so that the upper body does not lean forward.
Laptop / notebook
A laptop or notebook is the same as the keyboard in that the entire width is secured with a wrist rest and the wrists always have a support.
Also, the depth for an ergonomic wrist support for the laptop should be a maximum of one hand width deep.
How high should a wrist support for office work be?
Here it is crucial how high the mouse, keyboard or laptop / notebook is and especially how high the front edge or front curve is.
Computer mice come in a wide variety of shapes and curvatures, so it’s difficult to make a general statement. Generally, hand rests for mice don’t need to be that high. Just check that when using an ergonomic wrist rest for mouse, your wrist is not bent and forms a horizontal line with your forearm.
With a vertical mouse, on the other hand, you don’t need to use a wrist rest, since the vertical position of the wrist already provides an optimal solution for preventing tendovaginitis or carpal tunnel syndrome.
There are different thicknesses of the keyboards and some that can be slanted with small feet, which is nonsensical from an ergonomic point of view. Avoid these little feet and leave them folded in, otherwise the wrist will have to be bent again. As a rule of thumb, an ergonomic wrist rest should be at least one finger width thickness higher than the front edge of the keyboard.
The ergonomic wrist support for the laptop or notebook has about the same requirements as a keyboard and it is also true that the palm rest should be slightly higher, like the front edge of these devices. Your wrists are ideally somewhat elevated when using an ergonomic wrist rest for the notebook, so that you can type comfortably without a bend in your wrist.
With all input devices, check that the wrist forms a horizontal line with the forearm when supported and is not bent at an angle anywhere.
Ventilation and massage in a wrist support for office work
When working in front of the screen for hours in warmer temperatures with your hands on the keyboard or mouse while resting your wrist on a wrist rest, it can lead to unpleasant sweating. Some suppliers of ergonomic wrist rests advertise that their products have a ventilating function or use materials that have a cooling effect.
Such materials are primarily made of natural fabrics. Anything made of polyester, gel, artificial leather, or other synthetic materials has none or only limited breathable properties. When sweating on these materials, the sweat cannot be removed and sticks to the pad, leaving the unpleasant sensation of moisture on the skin.
Natural materials are much better at tackling the fight against sweating. The advantage of natural fabric covers, such as Tencel, wool or linen, is not only that you do not sweat at all, or at least less, but that the moisture can be processed and wicked away. The interior materials of a wrist rest are also crucial. Certainly, these should also have breathability to ensure some kind of ventilation. Some foam materials are comprised of small holes that provide air flow. An ideal filling material here is Mother Nature’s millet chaff, as the small, rounded shells create good ventilation and moisture is wicked away much better than with any other synthetic material.
As for the massage in a wrist rest for computers, some pads have small artificial pearls as a filling. These promote blood circulation when the wrist is moved and thus create a small massage effect. More important than a massage, however, is a pleasant padding so that pressure points do not occur anywhere on the wrist and blood circulation remains well ensured, even after hours of use.
Does the color matter for an ergonomic wrist rest?
The majority of all wrist rests are available in black. This is generally the classic office color, found on most office chairs, monitors, mice and other office equipment. With black one is on the safe side, since black is timeless and not subject to fashions.
On the other hand, a certain touch of color in an office can’t hurt. Even the subconscious is influenced by colors and colors enable the expression of feeling. For example, the color red exudes warmth and joie de vivre. Gray has a calming and harmonious effect while blue promotes performance and radiates calm.
Certainly, it can be quite interesting in an office or home office to have here and there a little splash of color. Women are generally bolder than men when it comes to choosing colors and love to add colorful touches. I’ve often noticed that “men’s offices” tend to be classically decorated, while “women’s offices” are generally more colorful, fresh, and vibrant. Since neither one nor the other is right or wrong, everyone has to decide for themselves whether they want to set nuances with colors or prefer a somewhat conservative approach.
When it comes to ergonomic wrist rests for the mouse and keyboard, several manufacturers offer the option of different colors for the covers. Also, some offer images or various patterns. Finally, you have to feel comfortable in the chosen look. The color choice remains a matter of taste and can trigger a positive effect.
Maintenance of ergonomic wrist supports
Especially with a wrist rest that you use almost every day, the question of maintenance and cleaning of the surface is an issue.
Synthetic wrist rests certainly have an advantage here, as they can be cleaned with water without any problems. If you also use a cleaning agent, depending on the type of agent, this can attack the plasticizer in the plastic or other synthetic. This can lead to cracks after a while in addition to exposure to sunlight. In general, it is important to know that some synthetic materials can become brittle over time, especially low-cost products, where correspondingly cheap material is used with an expiration date.
It is often sufficient to simply clean the pad with a damp cloth and then wipe it dry.
For wrist pads with a removable outer cover, the problem is even easier to solve, and you can sometimes even wash the fabrics in the washing machine. It is important to let the cover dry well again afterwards so that no mold can form. If the fabric cannot be removed, the fabric can be cleaned with a damp cloth to remove the dust. After that, the ergonomic wrist rest should be put in a warm place for a moment to allow the cleaned area to dry.
Logically, light colors get dirty faster than dark ones. However, black fabrics in particular make all light soiling, as well as dust, easily visible. Gray shades tend to minimize this problem..
Are there other solutions than “normal” ergonomic wrist rests?
There are versions of keyboards with an integrated palm rest, both conventional and ergonomically split keyboards. Ergonomic split keyboards are split down the middle, allowing you to place your hands on the keyboard at an open angle. Ergonomic keyboards are a real help for many people, but they still take some getting used to and are only suitable if someone is really good at the 10-finger typing system.
Keyboards with an integrated palm rest are built in such a way that a sloping surface runs off the bottom of the front edge, on which the wrists can be supported.
For the mouse, the vertical mouse is an ideal solution. Here you don’t need an ergonomic wrist rest because the wrist doesn’t lie flat on the table but is angled slightly to the side and the hand grips the mouse as if shaking hands. In this position, the forearm is relieved and the two forearm bones, the ulna and radius are almost parallel to each other. If, on the other hand, the wrist is lying flat on the table, the ulna and radius are twisted resulting in slight tension in the forearm.
Some people, while using a vertical mouse, may experience reddening of the skin on the lateral palm due to the upright position, as this area of the hand is rarely loaded and is therefore somewhat more sensitive. In general, vertical mice are a top ergonomic solution for people who have major problems with tendovaginitis or carpal tunnel syndrome, or where the classic ergonomic wrist rest for the mouse does not completely prevent the pain.
Another solution could be a wrist brace, although this is usually only recommended for people with chronic pain associated with tendonitis. A wrist brace is a type of splint with bandage that is placed around the forearm and wrist. This prevents certain movements from being made, immobilizing the wrist, and allowing it to recover.
The disadvantage with a wrist brace is that greater heat is generated.
Wrist supports are also available and are attached similarly to wrist bandages, but with an elastic fabric, like a glove, but without fingers and only for the wrist. On the underside, i.e., at the pulse, there is an integrated soft support. Thus, one has the ergonomic wrist support always attached to the wrist and can move completely freely.
Since typing on a keyboard and clicking with a mouse has become a normal everyday activity for most people, pain in the wrist area should be taken seriously. Emerging problems of tendonitis should be treated as soon as possible to prevent them from developing into chronic pain. A small investment in an ergonomic wrist rest for mouse and keyboard can often eliminate the problem at its root.
Although the selection of ergonomic wrist supports is large, you may not find the ideal solution right away. It is worthwhile to try out different products to see if comfort can be further increased. Especially if you get hard or reddened skin or feel a tingling sensation, you should definitely look around for another solution.
I myself don’t have any problems with my wrists, but I’ve been using a wrist rest with millet chaff filling for some time now as a preventive measure, and I’m absolutely thrilled with it. What I particularly appreciate about the millet chaff is that it can be shaped without any problems, enabling a completely comfortable position with the heels of your hands. Additionally, the silky Tencel outer fabric, which has never made me feel sweaty even in warm temperatures, is highly comfortable.
If you don’t have a vertical mouse or a keyboard with a palm rest, I highly recommend an ergonomic wrist rest; either as a preventative or to nip an occurring problem in the bud. This not only ensures a better ergonomic workplace, but also makes life behind the screen one step more comfortable.
If the topic of ergonomics in the office or home office appeals to you and you are interested in it further, my book “Wellness in the Office” provides even more tips and tricks. Combined with humorous drawings, I present 50+1 tips to make your office a little paradise.