Do Ergonomic Keyboards Work?

Typing at the office for 8-10 hours a day on a regular flat keyboard creates a ticking time bomb in your wrists and shoulders. If you don’t feel it now, you will.

Ergonomic keyboards can be great solutions for pain relief and prevention, but they can also be costly mistakes if you choose the wrong one. Fortunately, the secret to choosing the right ergonomic keyboard is as simple as understanding the ideal typing position.

The ideal typing position puts all arm joints related to typing in a “neutral position.” The discomfort we experience when typing on regular keyboards comes from our arm joints deviating from their neutral positions. Try this quick experiment. Hold your lower arm perpendicular to the floor so your elbow points straight down at the floor and the tips of your fingers point straight up to the ceiling. Then tilt your hand backwards by bending your wrist. Notice the tension that builds up along the front and back of your forearm? Not good. Yet this is the position that many of us type in.

Achieving the ideal typing position is simple:

Start by standing up straight with your arms down at your sides (we will do this standing to minimize other problems in desk setup).
Keep your wrists straight and your elbows at your sides while you raise your lower arms until they are parallel to the floor. Bend only at the elbows.

You will notice that you end up in a position with your palms facing inwards towards each other rather than down towards the floor as with a regular keyboard. Try rotating your forearms inward to the conventional typing position and back out to the ideal typing position. Did you feel tension load up in your forearms as you rotated them inwards, and then release as you rotated them back out to the ideal typing position? Me too. Additionally, keeping your elbows directly below your shoulders reduces uneven wear and tear on your shoulders.

Now that we know the ideal typing position, identifying ergonomic keyboards that work is as simple as finding keyboards that let us type in that position. The best ergonomic keyboards are known as “vertical keyboards.” They have two separate, vertical keying modules that let each hand type in the “handshake” position. For people who just can’t quite get used to the vertical typing position, there are also “tented” keyboards that raise each keying module but don’t go fully vertical.

But what about variations of the Microsoft Natural Keyboard? You’ve likely tried one, they are the keyboards with the bump in the middle and space between the left and right keying module. They are a half-solution. While they alleviate many of the wrist problems associated with typing by providing some degree of tenting, they point your hands inwards which causes your elbows to splay out to the sides. So while your wrists may be feeling better, you are loading up your shoulders with uneven stress.

Vertical keyboards and tented keyboards often look goofy and weird the first time you see them, but once you get past the visual, a true ergonomic keyboard is one of the best investments you can make in reducing and eliminating computer-related pain and discomfort. Just remember the ideal typing position and you’ll be able to pick out a keyboard that still leaves your arms feeling fresh at the end of the day.

Browse recommended Ergonomic Keyboards. Brian owns and operates Body Correct Living, a specialty Ergonomic Chairs and Ergonomic Accessories store.