Computer Keyboards Designed To Prevent Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
Ergonomic keyboards are becoming ever more popular as the number of daily computer users rises. The last 10-20 years have brought on a sharp increase in the number of people who use a computer nearly every day. Consequently, the number of people diagnosed with repetitive stress injuries each year has risen just as fast. These types of conditions usually result from performing the same body motion over and over again for many hours each day, and for a prolonged period of time. This coincides with the way we interact with computers - repeatedly pushing, clicking and typing away on various data input devices. Ergo models, when paired with an ergonomic keyboard tray, are designed to help keep your hands and wrists in a low-risk typing posture while computing. Those with professions or hobbies that involve heavy typing are the ones who are affected most by computer-related injuries; however anyone who uses a computer regularly is susceptible to these conditions. The most commonly known injury people develop is called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
What Makes a Computer Keyboard Ergonomic?
According to Wikipedia, "An ergonomic keyboard is a computer keyboard designed with ergonomic considerations to minimize muscle strain and a host of related problems." 'Ergonomic considerations' is a phrase that can have many meanings so let's look at what a few of those are. Your hands, wrists, shoulders and back are the areas of your body most vulnerable to repetitive strain injury (RSI). This is due to how we sit and move about when using computers under normal circumstances. A good ergonomic computer keyboard is going to keep your hands, wrists and shoulders in a better position than a standard model would. Your back is something that is not directly targeted by these devices but if the aforementioned parts of your body are properly supported then some back relief is produced.
What Types of Ergonomic Keyboards Are There?
There are a wide variety of ergonomic computer keyboards on the market in various shapes, sizes and colors, but there are two main types that are sold and used most often. The traditional look that most people are familiar with is the Microsoft Natural Elite™. This model was one of the first of its kind with a revolutionary "Wave" or "Curved" key layout. Since the inception of this model dozens of high quality keyboards have entered the market with the same basic design principle - to contour the keys in such a way that the user's hands are in a more natural, slightly angled posture.
The other main type of ergonomic keyboards are the split-key models. These feature a truly split key design where the keyboard actually separates at one or more points - and the keys separate with each part. These are considered very advanced and most beginners are advised to try a standard type before attempting to use one of these, unless the symptoms are truly severe. These can also be a bit pricey so it is better to start with a "natural" type product first and work your way up. The most famous adjustable split-key model is the Goldtouch Keyboard. This device separates and pivots from one central location at the top and it allows you to lock each half into an infinite number of positions. Goldtouch adjustable keyboards are currently manufactured by Key Ovation, who has recently changed their name and URL back to Goldtouch.
For a truly (and we mean truly) split key experience, utilizing the most advanced ergonomic design principles, there's the DataHand keyboard. This device is in a whole other category on its own, way different than the models mentioned thus far. Once you read the full details about how the Data Hand works you'll understand why it's so unique, and why it could be a great option for those looking for the most advanced features, or those who are suffering from serious RSI like carpal tunnel.
One of the newer, more unique products to hit the market is the Smartfish ErgoMotion keyboard. The inventor of this model focused on the fact that confined, repetitive movements are the root cause of most keyboarding discomfort. The ErgoMotion keyboard (also known as Engage) monitors your usage and behavior and automatically makes slight adjustments to the position of your hands. These calculated movements of posture at timed intervals are thought to greatly reduce the risk of developing RSI.
How Can I Make My Standard Keyboard More "Ergonomic?"
If you don't want to try a new keyboard design, or if you already have and just couldn't deal with it, there is another option for you. With the help of adjustable, under-desk keyboard trays you can move your standard input devices off of your worksurface into a more neutral, low-risk position. These systems are designed to attach to the under-side of your desk and allow you to quickly and easily make adjustments. Lowering your keyboard and mouse and bringing them closer to your body will help put your hands, arms and shoulders in a healthier, more comfortable position. This change alone can drastically improve your comfort and productivity without learning how to use new input devices.
What's the Best Ergonomic Keyboard to Try First If I'm New to This?
If you're new to the world of computer ergonomics then it is recommended to start with a curved, natural keyboard first, to see how well you can become accustomed to the new feeling and how long it takes you to get comfortable with it. This type of layout and feel is the easiest to get used to and is considered the best ergonomic keyboard for beginners. The Microsoft Natural 4000 is a great place to start your journey. Out of all "natural" type models the 4000 feels the absolute best as far as material quality and the feel and action of the keys. You can tell this was made by a good brand. That is why it is highly recommended as a great beginner option. If for some reason you have something against Microsoft products, or you want to try something really inexpensive at first, there are plenty of other ok-to-decent models out there by other brands that should be able to wet your whistle. Just keep in mind that cheaper devices tend to feel well, cheap, and they also won't last very long before showing signs of deterioration. If you don't go with the 4000 we suggest trying either the standard Natural Elite model or one of the many keyboards offered by a company called DSI. You may not have ever heard of them but they have been producing high quality computer input devices for a very long time. They are famous for their wireless models with built-in touchpads that allow for greater portability and ease of use in small contained areas where you may not be able to fit two standard sized input devices. If you do have the space, but don't like to deal with (or look at) a mess of cords, there are various standard-size wireless models available to fit your needs. Microsoft and Logitech both manufacture premium cordless desktops that receive excellent reviews, just keep in mind they might cost a little more than the wired models.
All in All, Are They Really Worth It?
Many people question whether or not it is actually worth it to purchase and use this type of product. It is difficult to look at the big picture sometimes, and to think far ahead into the future, but those who do are making an intelligent effort. So many of us use computers every single day and if you really stop to think about it you realize that problems could possibly occur over time from using keyboards improperly. It is easy to balk at the idea of a funny looking device actually helping your body but the truth is we really can't be too careful when it comes to our health. In ten, maybe twenty years from now the world could end up with millions of people with muscle and nerve issues in their hands and wrists, but you can do your part to avoid this by taking the right steps now. For complete body comfort as well as upper and lower back support you should also look into buying a high quality ergonomic chair for your home or office. These types of office chairs are more expensive than standard seating but are well worth the investment in the long run. Another recommended upgrade is an ergonomic mouse, which can help reduce and prevent common hand discomfort.