Monday, March 25, 2013

Do I need an Ergonomic Keyboard? Are they worth the money??

When you think of an ergonomic keyboard, you may picture something like this:

Just kidding! That looks like a spaceship.
You were probably thinking of something more along the lines of this:

The defining feature of an ergonomic keyboard is that it’s usually curved or v-shaped.  
Why do ergonomic keyboards look like that?

Unless you type by pecking away with your index fingers, try this experiment:  type as you normally would…then, freeze the position of your wrist and hand, and slowly move your forearms outward so that instead of pointing inward towards each other, they’re pointing straight ahead and parallel to one another, Frankenstein-style.

Chances are, your wrists are frozen in a position that is somewhat turned away from your body, otherwise known as ulnar deviation.


        Wrist in Neutral Position

         Wrist in Ulnar Deviaion

When your fingers are pointing in a direction away from your body, it’s called ulnar deviation(The ulna is the bone in your forearm on the pinky finger side. So, ulnar deviation = bending towards your ulna instead of straight ahead!)

The most commonly used keys on a keyboard are located very close together, so we usually have to compensate by turning our wrists outwards to be able to type. Nerves in our bodies run along a track from our necks, down our shoulders, into our forearms and finally into our hands. This change in angle can cause the track to become more narrow at the wrist, so the nerves to have less space to do their thing. Over time, this can lead to pain, weakness, numbness, and pins/needles sensations in our hands. 

Why should I care about this?

What I was just describing is called a nerve compression syndrome. The most common nerve compression syndromes I see in patients are Carpal Tunnel, Thoracic Outlet, Trigger finger, and different forms of tendonitis. Keeping your wrists in an awkward position for long periods of time is a great way to end up with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

I’ve treated a lot of people with Carpal Tunnel syndrome, and the majority of my patients acquire it by work related means, usually from spending all day at a computer.

However, I’ve found that carpal tunnel is more commonly caused by the position of the keyboard rather than the keyboard itself.
      Neutral Wrist Position 

What I want you to focus on here is the position of the forearms. Notice that the forearms are parallel to the floor, if not slightly downward sloping. Also, the wrists are neutral. 

Wrist Flexion
Wrist Extension

This is what I see more often. Keyboards that are too high or low on a desk for a person's height, people resting their elbows on their knees when they type, or using laptops on their laps. As a result, people have their wrist stuck in a bent up or bent down position all day to type. This is how problems can develop!

So, is it worth spending the extra $$ for an ergonomic keyboard?

In my opinion, no.  If you spend all that money on a fancy keyboard that is positioned too high or low for your height, you haven’t corrected the key issue. Your money and time would be better well spent making adjustments to your desk so that your wrists are comfortably neutral throughout the day.

Questions? Thoughts? Share the wealth in the comments section below! 

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