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How Effective are Ergonomic Keyboards? 478

Posted by timothy
from the don't-forget-your-chair dept.
Jodrell writes: "This article on the BBC's website has a brief review of the current state of keyboard technology, but also questions the validity of claims that ergonomic keyboards can help prevent RSI, CTS and other "upper limb disorders." The article suggests that maybe it's working habits that cause these problems, and not the design of computer interfaces. What are Slashdot readers' experiences?"
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How Effective are Ergonomic Keyboards?

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  • by Courageous (228506) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:27PM (#3591442)
    For me, preventing pain in my hands and wrists is all about having the keyboard at exactly the right height. If it's at the wrong height, I'll eventually get pain. If it's a the right height, I won't. The only other issue is working the mouse in very cold rooms. For some reason that causes my hands to hurt.

    C//
    • Isn't carpul tunel basically caused by repetitive motion. How is using a bent (I like to call them "broken" :) keyboard avoiding repetitive motion? It's it still just as repetitive, just in a slightly augmented position?
      • I read somewhere that CTS vulnerability is probably inherited. Apparently some folks just won't get it, no matter how bad their ergonomics.

        C//
      • Normal keyboards force your forearms to be parallel. That is a position that required muscle exertion and an awkward "twisting" of joints. It is the twisting that forces your tendons to rub against other tissues. Also the twisting can narrow the passages tendons move back and forth in. The bottom line is that tendons rubbing on other tissue cause inflamation and damage.

        My forarms and wrists were getting painfull after exclusively using my laptop for several months. I was worried so I looked into RSI and solutions. I didn't go overboard, but I did buy an excellent (re: $$) "broken" keyboard. It is a Maxim(tm). I also paid more attention to my posture. These two precautions helped alleviate the pain after a few more months.
      • by Weh (219305)
        the essence of carpal tunnel syndrome is that the nerves in the carpal tunnel become irritated. Repetitive motion should be alright as long as the carpal tunnel isn't too tight around the nerves. However when the nerves are jammed (by awkward hand-positions etc.) then the nerves are prone to irritation. So it's not only repetitive motion alone that causes cts.

        I've suffered from cts but am doing alright now. I use split keyboards and have learnt to type with all ten fingers. I think that the thing that most helped me is to relax every now and then and above all, good sleep. I find that when I am tense in my sleep I get pain in my hands a lot quicker because my muscles are more tense from the night.
    • I need my KB at exactly the right height, also. In addition, I like to have one of those removable KB foam pads. I had the kind that are installed with KB's. Those suck. Anyway, these foam pads give me some place to rest my wrists, so I don't have to constantly have them bent to rest them on my desk.

      Ergonomic KBs are hard to type with and they just make my pain worse.
      • Your Milage May Vary...

        I had been coding full-time for a few years when I started noticing my CTS. The pain was growing almost weekly it seemed, so I got myself a foam pad (and later a gel pad). The pain's growth slowed, noticably so, but it still did grow.

        I finally got to a point where I couldn't type properly at all. That's when I got serious, started doing wrist stretches every few hours, and got rid of the pad. The biggest change was the fact that I no longer rest my wrists on anything at all. That, IMO, is the truly ergonomic way to protect yourself.

        Having your arms/wrists resting on anything for hours at a time is bad and will reduce circulation. I have gone back to my grade 9 typing class [God Bless, Ms. West] and sit with feet flat, elbows bent 90 degrees, back straight. I've been pain free now for 2 years.

        So, I agree that the positioning has something to do with it, but I believe the best answer it to not rest the wrists at all.

        • CTS does not hurt. well not at first. the thumb, the first 2 fingers (index & middle) and the inside half of the 3rd (ring) finger tingles. the pain comes (if ever) after many, many months of tingling. generic pain of the hand due to strain is not carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • I have an Egro KB here on my desk at home, I rarely feel any pain while typing (even doing long research papers and normal crap on my computer).

    I spend 8 hours a day in front of a computer at work typing worthless shit all day. The KB there is not Egro and I routinely feel sharp pains and experience cramping outside of work. Granted, my posture probably isn't the best but it obviously shows that the difference is huge when using the E KB over the regular.

    That is my experience, YMMV.
  • It's such a variable thing, that there can be no blanket statement such as "ergonomic keyboards ARE better", or the converse. Personally, I've been typing since I was 9 in 1980 - perhaps before, and I've spend a LOT of that in constant writing. Having discovered Deluxe Paint and Photoshop later, I've also been mousing intensely over that time - and in 20 years there've been no problems I've noticed. I have a nerve injury that causes numbness on the outer two fingers of my left hand which means I type quite offset - yet there are no effects showing up in how I feel using my wrist/elbow/arm

    A friend of mine however, can't type pain-free without a microsoft ergo keyboard. That works for him and is another choice that I'm thankful he has.

    The most annoying thing when typing so far has been having something in the road of my elbows. That gets to me!

    a grrl & her server [danamania.com]
  • by NanoGator (522640) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:35PM (#3591495) Homepage Journal
    Not serverely though, but enough to change my habits. The big problem I was having was that I'd constantly hold my arms up in order to use the computer. I wasn't resting either of my elbos, and this eventually caused severe strain to my neck, shoulders, and even wrists. The first thing I did was I made a habit of having my left arm better rested on the desk or on the arm of my chair. The next thing I did was I got a little tv-dinner table and have my mouse resting on it instead, allowing me to rest my right arm on the chair. My problems went away shortly after making those changes, and I'd recommend them to anybody else.

    For all you cubicle dwellers like me out there, another tip is to move your computer to the corner of the l-shaped desk, if you have that opportunity. By using the corner, you can rest both your elbos on the desk.
    • by Uggy (99326) on Monday May 27, 2002 @03:03PM (#3591662) Homepage
      I agree with you wholeheartedly. (wish I had mod points). I hate the stupid desks that most office furniture places sell as ergonomic computer desks... little stupid pull-out try for a keyaboard at your waist, monitor placed on a platform above eye level... arrrggghh, whenever I have to type for more than a few minutes at a client's desk, I find that I have extraordinary amounts of pity for them.

      Get yourself a big flat, L-shaped desk (position yourself in the corner as NanoGator says), push your keyboard out to arms length, recline your chair, lean back , and pull yourself up to your stomach. Make sure your elbows stay on the table, your wrists are straight and you'll have no problems.

      Since most of my job involves command line stuff, I mostly interact with the computer via keyboard. I touch type and have never had a problem with repetative stress injuries.

      I have both a MS Natural Keyboard and a regular IBM clicky type and I like them both. I think I can type a little bit faster on the natural keyboard, though.

      • It's the other way around for me. I hated my keyboard tray when I first started using it... but eventually I started wishing I had one at home. At my new job, I've got a large L shaped desk which I have configured roughly as you describe and I find I still miss my old keyboard tray. My issue with the desk is that I rest my forearms on it and after a while I start to get sharp pains in my wrists.

        Part of the problem with keyboard trays is, they have to be set up at an appropriate height. This is going to vary greatly from person to person and you'll be lucky if you can find a desk/keyboard combination that works well for you (adjustable trays are best - others are crap). Even with an adjustable tray, there still needs to be room for things like legs.

        I love my MS Natty keyboard.
    • Another good thing to do is to use some program like xrwits [lcdf.org]. It's a keyboard timer that tells you to take a break every (whatever you set it to) minutes. You can delay the break if you are in the middle of something, but it gets progressively more annoying. Of course it's entirely voluntary and you can kill it easily, but if you use it well it helps. I originally saw this recommended here [jwz.org].

      Something that helped me personally was taking a yoga class - and probably any system of regular stretching that involves the wrists will have the same effect. Whatever gripes one may have about the pseudo-mysticism of things like yoga, it made a really noticable difference in the amount of pain I felt in everyday typing that semester (ah if only I could work up the self discipline to keep doing it regularly).
    • I'm an undergrad/grad student and research assistant. This means that if I'm not browsing the web, or writing a program for a class, then I'm writing a program for my research or writing another paper to be published. About a year and a half ago, I started getting pains in my wrists. Now mind you, I've been hacking for almost 10 years now, so I had the mind that "RSI is for pussies." Well, my advisor had a kinesis keyboard laying around. I don't intend this to be an advertisement for the company (just do a google search), BUT, ever since I got used to the keyboard, the pains have gone away. And I type much faster. I even bought one for home. I wouldn't trade it for anything. I cringe when I have to use a regular keyboard now, (1) because after about an hour or so, I my wrists hurt and (2) the position is just completely unnatural and you don't really realize it until you've been typing at a kinesis for a while. I've tried other "Natural" keyboards before and they don't hold a candle to kinesis. The down side is the low end model costs about $225. But I consider it to be worth the cost. I know it sounds like I'm plugging kinesis, so I'll also say that the way you type also matters, the level of your hands relative to the keyboard. I find that not resting my wrists on the desk helps, I use the arm rests on my chair to prop my elbows up and then I type with my hands above the keyboard with my wrists generally straight. Another good strategy is to take frequent breaks. Five minutes away from the keyboard every hour or so is not a bad thing and it will help you rest those weary hands.
    • Where I work we all have those old WWII era writing desks. They suck for computer work. (Duh?) The company recently dumped a bunch of money into ergochairs for the whole workforce.

      When I received my new chair I no more back/neck aches but my wrists were totally wasted. I eventually figured out that the armrests on the chair were causing me to rest forward body weight on my wrists. This was due to the armrests not allowing the chair into the proper position relative to the desk. I think. 2 minute hack job later and the chair has no arms. Immediate posture and pain improvement.

      Several years later (still the same lame desks ... I should call osha or my lawyer or something ...) my wrists are fine. So the moral of the story is : figure out what is causing YOUR problems. Don't just trust some shit hot human factors specialist if what they are suggesting doesn't feel correct.

      Of course I did start climbing exercises during that time period as well. Added some heavy duty grip strength which I believe helped a lot. Those 1 lb. grip balls REI sells are good. Also look at Metolius rock rings [metoliusclimbing.com]

      • By using the corner, you can rest both your elbos on the desk.

      I'm not Mr. OSHA or anything, I do a lot of things wrong with my workstation and posture habits, but... Read this page [duke.edu], for example, where it says:

      Avoid resting any part of your arms on a surface for an extended period of time. Constant pressure on an area such as your elbow can lead to nerve damage. Your elbows should be at your sides, free to move, if needed.

      You should never rest your elbows for any extended length of time on a surface. It can result in irreversable nerve damage. These ergnomic arm rests [buyamag.com] avoid putting any pressure on your elbow.

      I used to always rest my elbows, particularly my right elbow, on the chair arms and I think I caused a bit of a problem. I have some numbness and tingling of my pinky finger on my right hand, running down the outside of my right hand. I've stopped resting my elbows, but I still have a bit of numbness.

  • Exactly (Score:5, Interesting)

    by empesey (207806) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:36PM (#3591505) Homepage
    I don't use ergonomic keyboards, and not only have I used regular keyboards forever, I've been a piano player since I was 5 years old. How come we don't hear about CTS amoungst piano players, organist and the like. What about guitarists? Eddie Van Halen may have cancer, but he's never complained about CTS. While I'm sure that such a condition exists, I'm sure the medical community over-diagnoses, because of the money involved.

    In that respect, I don't think it's any different than all the Prozac prescriptions that are given every year. What percentage is completely unnecessary?

    • Re:Exactly (Score:3, Informative)

      by MartinB (51897)

      I can't speak for guitarists, but as someone who's also played keyboard instruments for over 20 years I can say that a good piano technique avoids CTS and RSI.

      The closest I've really heard of was Robert Schumann [rz-berlin.mpg.de] who it was said rigged up a pulley and weights system to strengthen his 4th finger so he could trill faster, and knackered his tendons in the process. (the more likely reason was taking arsenic to cure syphillis)

      • Amazing guitarist. Think it was CTS that he had, though it may have been tendonitis. He is kind of rare among guitarists who get RSI in that he got it in his right hand (he says it was from fingerpicks) rather than on the left hand, which is usually the one doing all the funky contortions. (reverse left and right if you'd prefer I talk in a southpaw-centric mode).

        I don't think it's that you can't get RSI from playing musical instruments such as guitar; I think it's just that there are very very very few people who spend eight hours a day playing a guitar the way people spend eight hours a day clicking away at a keyboard.
    • Keith Emerson and Carl Palmer (of ELP) have both had problems with music related RSI.
      Check this link out: Music RSI [music-injury.com]
    • Re:Exactly (Score:4, Informative)

      by ibi (61235) on Monday May 27, 2002 @03:18PM (#3591744)
      Actually, pianists and guitarists have been being forced to give up performing by various repetitive strain injuries for years.

      In fact, when I needed help in the mid-nineties, the best doctors to treat RSI in Boston worked exclusively with musicians. (The one time in my tech career that playing an instrument turned out to be a critical advantage. :-)

      It's very easy to blow off RSI as something that happens to [insert favorite character flaw here] people until, of course, your hands go out on *you*. Finding a keyboard that adjusted to my needs helped me, but only as a part of larger reworking of my technique and positioning - YMMV.

      BTW - I use a Goldtouch keyboard, you can see it and a bunch of other weird keyboards at:

      http://www.tifaq.com/
    • Re:Exactly (Score:5, Interesting)

      by psaltes (9811) on Monday May 27, 2002 @03:30PM (#3591793)
      Most piano teachers make a point of teaching correct posture, arm position, etc. I started playing piano when I was about 7. Early during highschool when I was playing quite a bit, I started having serious wrist problems. I sat down with my piano teacher and she corrected some posture problems that I'd developed along the way. So one reason that it's not heard about, is that instructors (even if they don't know this is what they're doing) go out of their way to prevent it. People have been playing pianos (and have a lot more interactive learning experience of it) a lot longer than they've been typing on computer keyboards.

      And I knew a guitar player in highschool who had serious CTS problems. He was probably the best jazz guitarist I ever met. So you probably just haven't met the right people. Also, you've probably been lucky enough never to have the combination of massive volume of playing and wrong posture that leads to such things. But as someone who experienced some and then averted significant wrist problems, I think you are completely wrong to say that it doesn't exist.
    • ...but only for musicians who play their instruments 6+ hours every day.

      How many of those are there? Compare to the number of people who use keyboards for 6+ hours per day.

      The problem for musicians is old and well-recognized, so exercises and techniques to avoid RSI are part of the formal education of almost every serious music student.

      So it's a relatively small pool of people, many of whom are carefully taught to avoid the problem. Of course you're not going to hear about it much.
    • Musicians definitely get RSI. My SO, who's a potter, has also had problems with RSI (traditional throwing wheel setups don't lead to good posture, and you tend to put leverage on your wrists). But back problems are still probably more common than wrist problems. I've known metalsmiths who've had problems as well -- mostly ones who have done a lot of raising (using a hammer for hours at a time). In many kinds of art, to be a serious professional (or even aspiring professional) you have to spend a lot of time, and be somewhat obsessive and willing to do highly repetetive work. And you have to do it accurately, which I think makes people's muscles more tense (as compared to a more relaxed repetetive movement like walking).

      Perhaps similar to musicians, artists talk about this among themselves more than would imagine. Talking to someone outside of your field about the myriad of uninteresting dangers specific to your field is a good way to bore people, so you should be thankful you don't know the specifics :)

    • Re:Exactly (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Alakaboo (171129)
      Guitarists have similar problems, although mostly when learning. Specifically on acoustic... barre chords require a good amount of strength and endurance and can reduce your wrist to a writhing mass of pain in short order. I've been playing for two years and I still can't make it straight through "And I Love Her" without stretching my chording hand. :-)

      It really depends on the person, though. Some people naturally have stronger hands than others and can handle the strain. After a time you build a callous on the edge of your finger and don't have to press quite as hard... that helps. Electric guitarists don't have a lot to worry about because the neck is so thin and the strings are so light. Just my two cents.

      With regards to typing, I've found the thing to watch out for is arching. Don't rest your wrists at the base of the keyboard because then you have to arch up and over to reach the keys (unless you have big hands). I try to elevate my hands while I'm typing to keep that part of my wrists straight. Armrests on your chair help. At least use the little stand-ups under the keyboard for that 15 degree angle, it helps immensely. And take breaks periodically... stretch your arms and back. Get away from the computer -- take a quick walk or something. That also helps your eyes.
    • I started typing when I was in 7th grade, about 30 years ago, hunt and peck. About 3 years later, I learned touch typing. I have never had good posture. It type with my wrists pressed to the tabletop, resting, and I like chairs with arms. I've been told this is bad. But I sit however I like. When I entered college, I could type about 70wpm, and I can now type about 95wpm after about 20 years. For those same 20 years, I've probably typed an average of 8-10 hours a day every day, perhaps to include weekends, without any ill effects.

      I reject any notion that posture or keyboard causes Carpal Tunnel problems, since it didn't in my case. Maybe I'm tempting fate by obseving this, but I doubt it.

      Here's what I'd like to know: How many nerds were sports jocks growing up? I'm not talking about the kind that scored medals. I bowled for many years, but was a terrible bowler. Nevertheless, it was wrist exercise. I played tetherball, volleyball, and I swam a lot. In those same years as I was learning to type, I swam 3 miles a day 3 days a week for swim team. And at the same time, in gym, the horizontal bar (pull-ups, etc.) was my favorite device. When swimming, my coaches would complain that I rarely used my legs, where they said all energy was supposed to come from, but I preferred my arms, which felt stronger than my legs.

      Now here's my guess: during the time that mattered, while I was young and still forming, I exercised whatever wrist muscle pathways in a way that formed large openings that have not been stressed from later typing. I think this is the reason I count myself immune to Carpal Tunnel problems today,when other friends have had them after much shorter times stressing.

      I'd be interested to see stats correlating wrist exercises with carpal tunnel. My theory? Being a jock at certain sports early on is what makes you a good computer person later. But, of course, we find our jocks don't get trained mentally and our computer people don't get trained physically. And so we get the worst of both worlds. I'd love to see some stats on this. Or, failing that, some examples of either people who had very strong wrists from sports having Carpal Tunnel later, or else people who did not suffer from Carpal Tunnel and yet had no sports background.
  • by ari{Dal} (68669) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:38PM (#3591519)
    for me, it's a bit of both.
    i've been a programmer/graphics designer for about a decade now, and i have cts in both wrists (worse in the right from mouse work...), and I can tell you why right now: I don't know how to type properly.
    Oh sure, i can bang away at 100 wpm, with very few typos, but my wrists are pressed flat against the table, which is just bad bad bad. Switching to an ergo keyboard helped, but not much.
    The only thing that's helping me now is that i wear wrist supports on both arms that force my hands into the proper position. I've been wearing them for over a year now, and i rarely feel pain anymore. If i take them off for a few hours, then it starts to kick back in again. Something tells me i'll have to continue wearing them for a long time, at least until i train myself to type with proper wrist positioning.

    • I've recently begun to wear a pair of wrist braces to help me at work. I don't have problems at home, because I an comfortably set up the way I want - Keyboard well below the level of my shoulders, Monitor lower than eyes and turned upward. I can't do that at work, and my posture suffers as a result.
  • by Black Art (3335) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:39PM (#3591526)
    The reason that people get repetitive stress injuries is because the way they are taught to type. In typing class, you are taught to hold your hands in aa certain way, to never cross your hands and to keep them bent at an unnatural angle. Holding your hands in the same position as what typing teachers drill into their students increases the chance that you will do damage.

    I would like to see a study of people who type using the "touch typing method" v.s. people who use the "hunt and peck" method. I think you will find that people who vary how they type have a much lower chance of having repetative stress problems than people who follow the rote dictates of how "you are supposed to type".
    • Hunt and Peck (Score:4, Informative)

      by sweatyboatman (457800) <sweatyboatman@@@hotmail...com> on Monday May 27, 2002 @03:08PM (#3591688) Homepage Journal
      it's probable that "hunt and peck"-ers will have less damage to their wrists, but they'll also spend more time typing, hunched over their keyboards, neck down, eyes down, looking at the keypad. Pecking might remove the strain from the wrists, but it places more on the back and neck due to bad posture.

      "Touch typists" who don't look at the keyboard, but look straight ahead at their monitors can, through proper placement of their monitors, maintain good posture throughout the work day.

      I am not an ergonomics expert, but there's nothing inherently wrong with touch-typing either. More that the way keyboard are normally positioned force your wrist into a prone position.

      BTW. there are exercises [orthohelp.com] you can do to help prevent carpal-tunnel from keyboarding.

    • Blame my typing teacher? If I could find that little old lady who used a drumstick to beat out a cadence and called out the letters in typing class in high school I'd kiss her on the lips. Of course that's dating me a bit since typing class was taught on IBM electric typewriters.

      My ability to quickly get my thoughts into a word processor, email, or code is one of the most important skills I learned in high school. Maybe I'm not disciplined enough to keep my hands at the unnatural angle but (thank goodness), I've never had a problem.

      To this day, being able to type over 70 words a minute has saved me absolutely countless hours and made me more productive at work and when working at home.

      That old bat deserves a Thank You note, not blame.
    • In typing class, you are taught to hold your hands in a certain way, to never cross your hands and to keep them bent at an unnatural angle. Holding your hands in the same position as what typing teachers drill into their students increases the chance that you will do damage.

      Now you know why Microsoft developed that split keyboard design for the Natural series of keyboards. What these Microsoft keyboards do is force the wrists back to their natural straight position when you type, which frequently reduces the stresses on the wrist when typing for long periods of time.

      They do take some getting used to initially but after typing on a Natural keyboard for a few months, when you type on a regular-layout keyboard the regular units feels very cramped and uncomfortable.
  • Relative Safety (Score:3, Insightful)

    by redgekko (320391) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:41PM (#3591540) Homepage Journal
    They way I see it, everything will kill, cripple, or make you stupid eventually. I can only hope that my Dell ergo keyboard is relatively safer since it's a hundred times more comfortable to use, and hasn't caused me any severe pain in about five years of constant coding, whereas a flat keyboard will put me in agony in just a few hours.

    The bottom line is that as long as we have to twiddle our fingers for data entry, RSIs continue will be a problem. It's just a question of improving posture to minimize injury.

  • MS Kurvy Keyboard (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    I have a MS Kurvy Keyboard (AKA "natural") and I can say that it does make a difference. After years of "normal" keyboard use, my wrists were getting quite sore. I finally bought a MS keyboard. I can type all day with it. If I use a "normal" keyboard, my hands are aching after 15 minutes. I would be lost without it.
  • by kabir (35200) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:44PM (#3591553)
    I had a bout with tendonitis/carpel tunnel (depending on which doctor I asked) a number of years ago and immediately switched from a normal keyboard to an ergonomic one, eventually finding one from Kinesis [kinesis-ergo.com] (Specifically the Classic [kinesis-ergo.com]) that actually helped. I have found this keyboard to be a great help, and after a bit of research it's actually pretty clear why.

    The whole deal with ergonomic keyboards is that to be effective they need to eliminate wrist possitions which cause your tendons to drag along the edges of your wrist, which causes inflamation. The key to this seems to be maintaining a natural "relaxed" wrist position which allows the tendons to do their work right in the middle of the wrist.

    Of course people vary quite a bit, so it seems that what works for some doesn't work for everyone. I've found that I'm particularly sensitive to this kind of injury (don't ask me why, I just am...) so the Kinesis is the only thing that works for me. I've met plenty of folks who don't need something this extreme because the more "normal" ergo keyboards change their possition enough that they stop having problems - generally the Kinesis will also work for them, but is over kill. Those more "normal" ergo keyboards don't do crap for me.

    I've also met plenty of people who just don't seem to have a problem with this stuff. I don't know what it is, but some people seem susceptible and others can spend fifty years typing on a standard keyboard and never have a problem. Go figure.

    I'm tempted to say that the "normal" ergo keyboards are a scam, because they don't work for me, but they seem to help enough borderline folks that I just keep my mouth shut instead. If you're having real wrist issues though don't write off all ergo keyboards until you check out the Kinesis ones. They provide a much more robust solution to bad positioning than any of the others, many of which focus on how "turned in" your hands are while ignoring the degree of flex in your wrists.

    And of course, the position of the rest of your body matters too.

    I'm unwilling to say that ergo keyboards are a waste or a scam for the simple reason that without them I couldn't code anymore. I did that for a while before I found the Kinesis, and it was bad. My life as a waiter is not a pretty thing ;)
    • MOD PARENT [slashdot.org] UP!

      This guy is actually trying to answer the question! Such a rarity on slashdot...

    • by fiziko (97143) on Monday May 27, 2002 @03:04PM (#3591669) Homepage
      I've got to chime in on the Kinesis Classic keyboards. I've been diagnosed with bilateral elbow tendonitis, so both arms have problems. When I use the normal rectangular keyboard my employer put in my office, I can work for, at most, two hours a day before the pain gets to be too much. When I use the normal ergonomic keyboards (such as the first issue of the Microsoft model, which I used to have) I managed to get about three or four useful hours of work done. With the Kinesis keyboard, I can get eight or nine hours in each day, without a problem. I don't know how much is the keyboard itself, and how much is the fact that I can put my trackball where the numeric keypad used to be, but it's helped me a lot. (If I hadn't upgraded, I doubt I'd ever finish the thesis I'm polishing off.)
      • I use the Kinesis Professional model with 3-action footswitch in dvorak. (Yes, no one can type on my board but me.) I don't have any sort of wrist problems, but it certainly does make for faster typing when I'm feeling lazy, as I don't ever take my hands off home row. Ctrl and alt are done with my feet, and I relearned to use the proper shift key (the one on the opposite side of the keyboard from the key being depressed). To top it off, I'm a diehard emacs user. It works.
    • I have to second the Kinesis classic. It's what I'm using right now. The main benefit is that it forces correct posture, just like musicians' teachers do for them.

      Anyone who tells you that keyboards are a replacement for physical therapy and rest is lying. But in combination with large amounts of physical therapy the kinesis keyboards have enabled me to return to work after 2 weeks in splints and 2 months at half time.

      My main suggestion would be to get a break reminder program that pops up every n minutes and makes you take a break. I have written a simple program for linux & gnome. There's plenty of free ones available for win32.

    • I absolutely love my Kinesis keyboard too. It's one of the few times I might write in with one of those dorky "Your Product Changed My Life" letters to Kinesis, but it's probably better that I write that letter here.

      But you said all the stuff about how it helps RSI -- I'd add that it is also just a really good keyboard. It looks funny, and it'll bug anyone who casually tries to use your computer, but once you get used to the keyboard you'll like it for more than just ergonomics.

      They keyboard only has the keys you really need, without the arrow pad and keypad hanging off the side -- this makes it usable on your lap, and much more compact than Natural keyboards (even a bit more compact than normal keyboards). It's a similar set of keys to the Happy Hacker keyboard. The two sides are separated a fare distance, which does make it a larger than the HH keyboard. I haven't heard good things about the touch pads you can put in the middle -- a nice idea, but perhaps poor implementation (or maybe touch pads just naturally suck).

      I find I type with considerably more accuracy and speed using the keyboard. On both sides of the keyboard, the keys are in a little crater of sorts, so your hands sit naturally in the correct position -- you don't have to find the correct position, it's just natural. They home row keys also feel different, but not because of little nobs on them (which become irritating), they are just shaped slightly different. You are forced to touch-type properly, but that can be a good thing. It is, however, quite bad for hunting and pecking of any sort -- you can't type one-handed at all, even typing in one-key commands is annoying. Again, more casual computer users will be annoyed, serious programmers won't find this a big compromise -- you'll find you end up touch-typing even single key commands, and being able to fall directly into the home position makes this no big deal.

      I can also touch-type numbers quite easily, because the keys are not staggered like on most keyboards. 4 is directly above F, 5 above G, etc. Since there's no keypad, this is nice (there's a keypad you can toggle on, but it's poorly implemented -- the toggle key is unreliable, there's no non-sticky toggle, and you can't type space while the keypad is turned on). On the subject of gripes, Escape is also a crappy little key (as is F1, Print Screen, and others, but that's okay because they are hardly ever used. Escape shouldn't be in that group). I imagine vi users might find this particularly unpleasant (though with xmodmap you can fix it -- maybe mapping Insert to Escape).

      And, while gaming is not something someone with RSI should be doing much of ;), the keyboard can be both good and bad. For games with fixed key mappings (like most strategy games) you'll want a normal keyboard to swap in. For first-person shooters, the keyboard is great. You can reliably hit about 16 keys with one hand without any mistakes, and there's about five keys you can hit with your thumb while you are still completely free with the rest of you hand (for jumping, ducking, changing weapons, etc).

      So, great keyboard, highly recommended even to people without very bad RSI (if they are serious typers, and other people don't use their computer). It has a few flaws, but you can probably fix them with xmodmap if they really bother you. It's expensive, but it's good quality and I've had mine for years with no problems.

    • Another vote for the Kinesis Classic. About 6 months ago my hand pain became unbearable. I visited a doctor, got drugs and (temporary use only) wrist splints, and was finally inspired to learn to use the Kinesis keyboard my co-workers were typing on. Spent two weeks of feeling like an idiot getting my typing speed back, and am thrilled that I did so - I still experience occasional pain, but it's nothing like I used to.

      I doubt this sort of thing is necessary for the average user - I tended to work 8-12 hour days 6-7 days a week, then go home and play video games. It's not a particularly smart lifestyle, but if it's what you're doing, a Kinesis can make it a good bit less painful.
  • Now that would be a million-seller, easy.

    (Of course, you'd still need the armed guard standing behind Jon Katz and forcing him to use his, but progress comes in small steps...)

  • by DaveWood (101146) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:52PM (#3591594) Homepage
    I'm a programmer and an avid FPS gamer. About three years ago I started to feel a tingling sensation on the backs of my hands - as if they were "falling asleep." First this would happen after the odd 12-16 hour session of straight coding, but gradually unusual aches, pains and numbness became more and more common, until it was happening every day.

    I knew exactly what was happening to me, but at the time I was trying to start a business and didn't have health insurance. Becoming panicked, I goaded my partners into starting the search for insurnace we could afford - amid the spiraling costs and free-fall benefits currently available, this took 5 months. Toward the end, I was unable to work.

    I read every single piece of literature on the internet about RSI, and then I moved on to the library and the medical books. This condition has happened in my family, and I immediately knew how much trouble I was in. Everything said the same thing: "see a specialist now - don't wait!" But I couldn't! And I inevitably ended up looking at the major "RSI keyboards" - i.e. Twiddler and Datahand. I "evaluated" the Datahand [datahand.com] (this is a $1,000+ investment, but still less than the consultation fee of a good specialist) for several months.

    The principle seemed sound to me - the literature they had appeared convincing and the salesman I spoke to claimed to be an RSI sufferer himself who had been helped "dramatically" by the keyboard. It got a lot of comments sitting on my desk - the thing looks quite sci-fi. However, the learning curve was steep (at least for me) - it took weeks of constant effort in order to get to a third of my current 90wpm. Convinced I might be saving my wrists, I let this massive and unbearable disruption to my work continue unabated, but I found that I still felt pain, and at the end of the day, I still felt numb. In hopeful moments, I thought perhaps it would pass as I gained proficiency with the keyboard.

    Eventually I more or less stopped working altogether, using interns and co-workers to type for me. My partners started to get nervous - far from sticking with their friend, I knew they were starting to wonder how they could get rid of this medical disaster in their midst. I started to contemplate what the rest of my life would be like without the ability to type or perform other similarly intricate motions with my hands.

    Finally, the insurance came through, and I canvased New York, looking for the best specialst I could find. In an oak-paneled office a few blocks from Lincoln Center, I mingled with young musical prodigies and their handlers, and I was given two cortisone injections, an exercise regimen, and a piece of advice:

    "Those keyboards aren't worth the plastic they're molded out of."

    I went back on the regular keyboard, and within weeks, I was 100% back to normal.

    So, in summary:

    • THE "ERGONOMIC," "RSI" KEYBOARDS ARE WORTHLESS
    • IF YOU THINK YOU HAVE A PROBLEM, SEE THE BEST SPECIALIST YOU CAN FIND. IMMEDIATELY.
    • The standard QWERTY keyboards in use today are still a mess, and could still be improved. And improving them might even help prevent RSI. But my understanding of it, gleaned from the Doctors I've worked with is that the keyboard itself is a relatively small part of the puzzle, with work habits (regular breaks!), posture, chair and desk, and other aspects of your fitness (most of the exercises I did were back-related) making up the majority.

      At the very least, I wouldn't mind seeing Dvorak keyboards come into style.
      • Don't be silly. Under Windows, MacOS, and Linux (and probably all other major OSes) you can specify any keyboard layout you want. I've contemplated the idea of switching to Dvorak for a few years but just haven't gone through with it. But I did at least set up my Win2k desktop in anticipation of making the switch -- it takes at most three minutes to do.
    • Seeking a professional worked for you. Switching to the SmartBoard [darwinkeyboards.com] by DataDesk worked for me. I began feeling tingling in my wrists and pain in my forearms a couple years ago and searched for a better keyboard. I tried Microsoft's but did not like the key layout. A post on Slashdot, thankfully, pointed me to the SmartBoard. It may not work for everyone, but that doesn't mean it works for no one.

      Please avoid blanket statements such as yours. Yes, seeing a specialist is a good idea, but not the only solution.

      The SmartBoard has several benefits. First, like other ergo keyboards, it is split. I would love it if it were actually in two pieces so I could adjust the amount of split, but what it has works for me. Second, and more importantly in my mind, the keys are aligned vertically (like the Kenesis I believe) so your fingers don't need to stretch horizontally. This keeps your wrists from torquing so much and really feels much better to me.

      It took a little getting used to, but after a weekend of using the SmartBoard I was back up to my regular 90 wpm (yes, a weekend). After a week, my speed was actually improving beyond what I could achieve before since it was easier to strike all the keys.

      Within a couple weeks the pain had disappeared and has not returned. I still recommend exercise, taking breaks, better posture, keyboard and mouse trays, etc. The other nice thing about the SmartBoard is that it's $90 and has held up well to continued pounding. I'd also say it makes playing FPS games easier. :)

      The downsides? The key click is quite a bit louder than other soft keyboards. This doesn't bother me, but if you're in a wide-open work environment, you may get complaints. Second, as I said I wish I could adjust the split. Other than that it has been a real joy.

      In short, if you're avoiding seeing a specialist due to cost, don't compound your injury by doing nothing because you believe that "ergonomic keyboards are worthless." Instead, drop $90 and try one out. Hell, try a few out. Your continued ability to type is not worth senseless doubt.

    • I switched from a standard QWERTY to an old-style MS-keyboard (which has now outlived three or four large project lifecycles and is underhand at this instant) and the difference was immense. It probably has a lot to do with body geometry. I have short arms and the QWERTY put a sharp kink in my wrists. I'd go numb playing FPS or doing long coding stretches. By elevating the back of the keyboard, dropping the front, and getting rid of the damn crick in the wrist due to the split and angled keypad, all of a sudden I stopped hurting. So, they are clearly NOT worthless to some of us in some situations.

      OTOH, I have a friend and her husband who both had pretty crippling RSI and as a consequence could not work for a while. This caused great stress. And then, like the survivor she is, she turned it into a business!

      She became an expert (and I think a VAR or something) for Dragon and now helps people with extreme RSI, other handicaps, etc. setup voice command software systems. And the new generation are pretty damn impressive. Everyone from authors who just want to dictate to their systems, to medical and legal secretaries, to government offices looking to avoid future suits related to this kind of injury should take a visit to their website here [speakeasysolutions.com] and think about it.

      I used some of the first gen speech reco/voice command stuff and you used to have to train it galore, always had a crappy mike, and it still performed badly. The new stuff without much training is pretty good, with a good mike and a little bit more training verges on awesome. I watched her sitting across the room from her laptop whacking out a story using MS-Word via voice command... pretty kewl beans!

      Visit this link [akasa.bc.ca] to find out a bit more about RSI and some ways to treat it, prevent it, etc.

      And I know my lady pal is a ./er too.... she hunted me up by my sig from the other side of hte country when I posted something... ;) ...and this is an entirely unsolicited testimonial, but I think they're great folks and do good things to help people who are really suffering and those who want to avoid suffering.

  • My mother cannot use a mouse for extended periods of time anymore. She has to use a trackball. Mabye ergo keyboards/trackballs don't prevent pains, but the sure do help to relieve the pain.
  • by webword (82711) on Monday May 27, 2002 @02:54PM (#3591607) Homepage
    The Facts About Repetitive Strain Injuries [webword.com] -- An interview with Scott Wright, Webmaster and Primary Caretaker of the Typing Injury FAQ.

  • I feel weird whenever I type on a regular keyboard. About 6 years ago when I was a computer science major, I found that I started having pains in my wrists after working at the computer for a long time. I decided to buy an ergonomic keyboard and found that the pains went away almost immediately, and it only took a few weeks to get used to the different key layout. Now I can even type faster than I did before. I just wish that they would standardize the layout of ergonomic keyboards because most of them are different from each other and put the 6, b and y keys on differing sides.
  • I went to a class given by our university about ergonomics. The people there seem to encourage students to stay away from the kinesis and microsoft/logitech models of this world. The best keyboards they said where the split keyboard model made by gold touch (a respectable company who has been in business for long time but with a ad budget lower than MS and the others) and the now defunct Apple ADB model which was a direct reap off of the gold touch model.
    Living on Apple reputation to design always cool stuff, it's a shame that they stopped making that keyboard.

    The position of the forearm seems to dictate according to the instructor the problem related ot wristh pain. He also mentionned that the laptop keyboards are worse than desktop keyboard because they will let you palm rest at the same level than the keyboard. Not to mention the most of the time smaller form factor associated with laptop keyboards.

    Since I went to that class, and because I love the laptop form factor (me japanese), I keep my hand elevated while typing which gives my gesture an elegant touch. Not that I had pain before but like in many other activities, prevention is better than being sorry.

    PPA, the girl next door.
  • If I feel better at typing on an ergonomic keyboard, it is effective for me.
  • by autechre (121980) on Monday May 27, 2002 @03:10PM (#3591699) Homepage

    When my right wrist starting hurting this January, I decided to change several things. First, I gave up my cheap Packard Bell keyboard in favor of one of the old, loud IBM models. This thing feels so much better. I don't know about any new, oddly-shaped keyboards, but this feels great to me. Additionally, I got a keyboard drawer to position it at a better height, which helped.

    I also talked to one of my martial arts instructors (who is also a chiropractor) about exercises to help. He showed me several that have also made a big difference. In case you're wondering, it's an Indonesian art called Pentjak Silat, and the exercises involve sticks (I also take Jujitsu, which does have some wrist stretching, though Aikido would do more).

    Aside from martial arts, I also play several musical instruments, and I think that the variety of motion is probably also beneficial.

    PS: Yes, I do use qwerty touch typing, and have since I was around 10 (I'm almost 25 now). I think my problems may have been brought on by a period of time in which I didn't play much music, was doing less martial arts, and was writing many pages of Japanese characters. The fact that my left wrist is fine deepens this suspicion.

    • In case you're wondering, it's an Indonesian art called Pentjak Silat, and the exercises involve sticks (I also take Jujitsu, which does have some wrist stretching, though Aikido would do more).

      As a former (and hopefully soon again) Aikidoka, I can say that wrist stretching is certainly a core discipline, otherwise kotagaeshi and other wrist related takedowns and pins would be damaging. I think the stretching excercises (especially the yonko stretch) would be of great use to add flexibility and limberness to the wrists. I assume most other joint lock arts (Aikijitsu, Jujitsu, Taijutsu, possibly Judo) would teach similar stretches. And I think they do wrist stretches in escrima/arnis also (Phillipine).

      One thing to keep in mind: Mild stretching is likely to make you more limber and give you a better chance to avoid injury and strains. Serious workouts can stress your joints though (either through stretching or technique) and you notice this more if you then end up at work the next day in front of a computer for 8-14 hours. So try to keep that in the back of your mind while working out.

      PS - Idiotic manouvers like shoulder rolling on concrete might end up separating a shoulder...

  • The problem I find with most "ergonomic" keyboards is that the angle they split the keyboard at is too wide for me...and the adjustable ones are too flimsy. I sometimes work 14 hours a day on my keyboard...and I quickly can feel the strain. What did help me muchly was dumping the mouse. I first of all tried the Logitec trackball that uses the thumb, and that was nearly as bad as the mouse...then I moved to the "Marble Mouse", the one where your hand sits on top of it and you use your index finger to move the trackball, and the buttons are on either side of where you rest your hand. Well, placed, it causes virtually no strain on my wrist. I tend to use Keytronic keyboards with their soft touch, but full travel keys. Nice.

    ttyl
    Farrell
  • During my thesis work, I had a lot of strain on the muscles and tendons on the pinky-side of my forearms. I actually had to stop all work for about four days at one point. Once I got the split keyboard, the problem disappeared. (It was also helped by using Dragon Naturally Speaking to dictate parts of my thesis.)

    Going back to my old keyboard afterward, I also found that the keys are stiffer. I think that was also part of it.
  • Keyboards, exercises (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ciurana (2603) on Monday May 27, 2002 @03:13PM (#3591713) Homepage Journal

    I suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome and now I'm mostly over it. I believe that my recovery is due in equal parts to rotating among three keyboards so that my wrists aren't always in the same position, good typing habits, and practicing the exercises recommended by the America Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons to prevent injury.

    The AAOS page with infos on this is located at:

    http://www.aaos.org/wordhtml/press/exerci.htm [aaos.org] [aaos.org]

    Cheers!

    E
  • They do help a lot. (Score:2, Informative)

    by bbtom (581232)
    I used to work for a company that specialised in ergonomic products to reduce RSI symptoms, including keyboards, mice, pads, mats, Speech Recog software and RSI software. I was typing a lot, so replaced my Mac's standard keyboard with an ergo keyboard. The difference it made was immeasurable comfort. Since then I've started using a laptop, and I find that if the position I'm in is uncomfortable, I can just pick up and go work somewhere else - a different desk, chair, lie down on a couch or bed and use it, go lounge outside - whatever.

    These things DO work - along with taking frequent mini-breaks (30 secs per 10 minutes), and stretching your arm muscles.

    Also, make sure you take your eyes away from the screen and focus on something far away - outside, for example. That always helps.

    RSI is a problem, and prevention IS the solution.
  • There are physiological differences between people that make the difference where carpal tunnel syndrome is concerned. I lucked out, being big-boned, so I have a large carpal tunnel for my tendons to travel through. Some people have such a small gap that any sort of repetitive finger motions will bring on the symptoms. For a lot of people it's borderline; operating in non-ideal conditions will cause some problems, but paying attention to ergonomics can definitely help.
  • Most of the above (Score:2, Informative)

    by ChuckRoast (30568)
    I combined common sense and professional advice with practical application for a successful outcome.

    I used to have dull aches and pains on my right, upper forearm. Learning to mouse left-handed fixed that problem (~2 weeks to become proficient). Now I right-mouse at work and left-mouse at home to achieve a nice balance and I don't have that pain anymore.

    Fast forward two years ...
    I was waking up about three times a night with numb hands. I saw my doctor and he said it was a symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome. I researched on the Net and decided to go with the Kinesis Contour keyboard ( http://www.kinesis-ergo.com/ ). I also modified my seating area to improve kb height, monitor view, etc. The Countour is very good for typing letters, but using Emacs and vi is still sometimes challenging (I'd gotten use to Ctrl-[ for Esc). It is easier on my hands and I feel less pain and I got down to waking up only a few times a week with hand numbness.

    I went back to the doctor and he sent me to a sleep lab, where I found out I have Sleep Apnea. Now I use CPAP to sleep at night.

    By combining common sense and professional advice/eq with practical application, I have successfully eliminated pain, improved my sleep at night, and I'm now more productive during the day.

    NB: My docoter also said CTS cannot be eliminated by these devices, but if the pain is subsided, then that is enough for me right now.
  • It's amazing that this keeps coming back, time and again. Back in 1988-89 (my final year of law school), I wrote a 150-page "research pathfinder" (annotated bibliography) and a lengthy thesis (70+ pages) on this subject. (Irony: after spending 8+ hours per day typing these materials at my computer, I began to exhibit many of the physical ailments, including wrist, elbow, shoulder, and back pain. Remember, there was no public internet back then, so I couldn't cut and paste so much, and I think I was still using WordPerfect 5 or 6.)

    I haven't followed this field closely, but from what I've seen, the science hasn't seemed to advance since then, mostly because companies are spending big dollars to prevent studies from going forward, and the Republicans want to keep the government off our backs by preventing any regulation or much research into ergonomics. (In my paper, I noted that legal tort-liability rules were shifting so that manufacturers -- who would almost certainly have been held liable if their appeals reached the courts in the early or mid 80's -- would probably win their appeals in the 90's, which is mostly what happened.)

    My own opinion is that the number one ergonomic problem today is the desk. Despite study after study showing that worker injuries are reduced if desks are adjustable, nobody (including me) wants to spend a thousand bucks more for an "ergonomic" desk that allows for adjustment of the surface and especially the keyboard level. (Instead, we spend much more on lost work time and on chiropractors, etc.)

    Adjusting the chair (though important) is not enough since lowering the chair means awkwardly repositioning the legs, and the torso follows into a poor position.

    An aside: The height of the "typing surface" (which is traditionally lower than a desk surface) was originally designed for a typewriter, in which the keyboard was raised further above the surface than the keyboard is today.

    And of course, these surface heights were designed for the average woman, at a time when average heights were a bit shorter than today. Of course, anyone who is shorter (or "differently proportioned") than the average, is going to experience problems when using equipment designed for the "average" person.

    And let's be fair, many folks haven't got a clue about the proper adjustment of their adjustable chairs (or desks, if they have them), nor the proper settings for best ergonomic benefit. And just try to hire a competent consultant to come train your staff (blow the budget in a day).

    Of course, one problem is that nobody offers an ergonomic desk at a reasonable price. Are there patents or something preventing someone from selling a $500 adjustable-height desk? Instead, whenever I've shopped, prices start somewhere north of $1,000, for the flimsiest adjustable desks, and $2,000 for anything decent.

    Another ergonomic problem that I've quickly solved was the mouse. After many months of shoulder and elbow pain, I switched from a mouse to a trackball (I think it was in 1992 or 1993), and the pain simply vanished. Sometimes I do get wrist and finger pain, but that fades if I remember to switch regularly between two slightly different style trackballs. (But please don't use a lousy trackball, stick to the Logitech red-ball trackballs.)

    Finally, things like posture and work breaks are absolutely essential. Any employer who allows employees to sit hunched over a keyboard for hours without a break, probably deserves to pay immense sums for insurance (workers' comp and health). It is not an employee's right (even a self-righteous coder) to sit hunched over the keyboard for hours. Breaks MUST be taken, in which the employee at least stands up and raises her arms!

    Finally, let me recall my favorite case in researching ergonomic liability lawsuits. One of the phone companies (I think it was US West) had instructed its consultants/contractors to design a 411/directory/information-service terminal that did NOT display characters as they were typed, because their research showed that employees slowed down their typing speed if they waited to see if the correct character was displayed. Of course, once the employees couldn't see what they were typing, their natural tendency was to pound the keys harder to be sure the character was being recorded (since there was no feedback about what level of keystroke pressure was enough). The result was a 100% injury rate (RSI/carpal tunnel).

  • Generally, I've liked the QuietKey keyboard series from Dell. It's too bad you can't order them seperatly as all they have available online are inane offerings from MS and Logitech with all kind of useless keys and functions. So I resort to stealing them when a new server comes in.

    I also absolutely need a good wrist pad and mouse pad. I highly recommend the Fellowes products for this. I rest the base of my hands on the wrist-pad and my fingers reach accross the keyboard in a fairly natural position.

    I'm also very picky about the kind of mouse I use. In particular, I prefer the optical mice that focus on a light form.

    The Happy Hacker keyboard was nice too, I appreciate it for the quality of the key feel, but eventually had to ditch it for a lack of number pad and function keys.

    I recommend switching the caps-lock and ctrl keys around too. Makes editing and just general functions much easier to perform.
  • My wife is a contracts attorney and had been having major carpal-tunnel problems, in spite of correctly-positioned chair, etc. She switched to an ergonomic keyboard, and it helped a little. Her problem really seemed to be the mouse, since she is editing contracts all day long -- more mouse-work than keyboarding.

    I persuaded her to give the Logitech Optical Trackball a try, and she loves it. All the carpal-tunnel problems seem to have gone away, and when you watch her play games now, she can make that trackball fly!

    I note that a few others said they had mouse problems as well... maybe this will help.

  • ...for Carpal Tunnel Syndrom is obesity. There are many sources for this, do a google search for "Carpal Tunnel +obesity" to see many, many different sites that mention this.

    I play the piano for at least 2 hours every day, and I'm in front of a computer keyboard for another 4 to 6 hours.

    Interestingly, the most uncomfortable action for me is mousing! If I have to do something like Image Editing for hours at a time, I have to take breaks or risk getting a sore hand and wrist.

    I think the way you sit, how relaxed you are, and how fat you are are more important to working a keyboard without injury than the particular layout of the computer keyboard.

    Pianists learn quickly that the way to get "velocity" and fluidity at the piano is not to waste any energy! Don't keep "pressing" at the key once it's down, just let gravity hold you hand on it, and don't move your hands and fingers any more than absolutely necessary.

    The same holds true on a computer keyboard. Learn how to type properly. "Eyes on copy" with your hand in the proper position; Don't press at the keys any harder than needed.

  • I'm not a heck of a good typist. Still, I manage to get a few wpm out of me, even by "hunt-and-peck". (Well, I guess I know the keyboard by heart anyway, so it's mainly "peck".)

    My right wrist hurts sometimes, after a long session. But guess what? It's not the keyboard.

    In my case, and maybe in many other people's cases, it the mouse. God, how I hate mouses. Having to sustain your arm in the air while you move the mouse around, your hand always resting on the same position, your fingers having to repeatedly perform the same movements...

    I've tried a lot of different things, from changing mouses to changing the way I hold them, to changing the way I sit. I've tried trackballs and touchpads, I even tried a foot-operated gizmo I got to build with a couple of guys from work.
    Some things work, some things don't. All in all, I'd go for trackballs, wirelless ones, the kind you can place wherever you want to (desk, arm of chair, lap) and still do your stuff.

    Many people in the (computer) business don't type all day long. Still, every time I hear about ergonomics people only talk about the keyboards. And, no, I don't think I'm alone in this.

  • I quite regularly work at a computer for 12 hours a day, sometimes more. A few years back I started to get occassional aches and pains, particularly in my fingers and wrists. However nowdays I rarely get anything, and I certainly don't work any less, for me the solution seemed to be...

    1. Logitech trackerballs. I have two computers on my desk and I use a different type for each - one driven by my thumb and the other the symmetrical one using the index finger. Logitech are by far the best trackerballs - microsoft ones are ok and anything else is invariably crap. using a trackerball IMHO is the most important thing preventing a problem.

    2. Split keyboards. I use these and find them comfortable, but of lesser importance than trackerballs.

    3. Breaks. I'm fortunate and work from home, so no-one is looking over my shoulder. I always keep something else to do in the office or nearby - painting my sons models, go and sort out the plants - at the moment there's a rc model plane being built. I stop every hour or two and spend some time doing something else completely different.

  • Musical Ergonomics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by TechFaerie (568490)
    Carpal Tunnel is a mighty mean thing....and it's really, really common where you least expect it. Computer users can adapt to a non-ergonomic environment. Personally, Ive started using the foam wrist brace for the keyboard, and have transitioned to the fully programmable, four button, Cordless Trackman FX made by Logitech. So, no problems there.

    However, as a member of both a full band and orchestra, I see RSI and CTS all the time. I see flutists wearing wrist braces prior to auditions, to keep their hands from going numb. Violinists and violists use special braces to keep from getting neck cramps, and clarinets & oboes have equipment to take pressure off their thumbs.

    So, most (read:popular) instruments have methods developed to take care of this. But then you have others. Tuba and sousaphone players have a horrible time, stretching and carrying such a big instrument. Myself, I'll get shooting pains along my left arm during long practices on the bassoon, easily the least ergonomic instrument. There's no alternative way to hold it, and you *cannot* wear a wrist brace while playing it. You just can't reach the needed keys with that kind of restriction.

    But music is still being composed, and there's still need for bassists, cellists, and all the low winds. If we complain about a eight-hour practice, all we get is "You're young. You'll survive." So much for the helpful employer. We just try to pace ourselves to avoid it.

    Is working at a computer for eight hours worth the injuries? No.
    Is the music worth the trouble? Yes.
  • I know a few others have already mentioned this, but I don't find my wrists hurting from typing but rather from mousing. It was getting to the point that I felt I really needed to do something before any real damage was done, and I switched to a trackball mouse. It took a little while, but gradually my wrists hurt less and now I experience no discomfort at all.

    As far as ergo keyboards go, I find them to be more of a pain in the rear than anything else. I learned to type on an electric typewriter (anybody remember those?) so my typing accuracy and speed is rather dependent upon not only the layout of the keyboard but also the noise level.

    The best keyboard I've ever used (and I consequently horde the things) is the IBM Model M (with removable keycaps). Each key is an isolated independent mechanical switch. The office mates make fun of the clackity-clack of the keys, but I simply adore the thing.

    Just my 2c ... either get a trackball or stay away from the mouse, and your wrists will be much happier.
  • That I'll never go back to a regular keyboard. I've never had problems with RSI or CTS, but that isn't why I use the Natural kb. I use it because it is just more comfortable, flat out. My hands are in a *much* more natural feeling, comfortable position with the Natural kb, so it is much easier for me to type for extended periods of time than it is with a regular kb. As an added side effect, after switching to the Natural kb and giving it about 2 wks usage, my WPM had gone from about 75 up to 97. I'm sure this was just because typing had become that much easier, but it was certainly a nice surprise.

    Bottom line, the only thing you can reasonably expect to gain from an ergo kb is a more comfortable typing position and possibly faster typing. Any kind of RSI, CTS included, isn't really going to be helped by an ergo kb.
  • by Dixie_Flatline (5077) <vincent.jan.goh@gmTIGERail.com minus cat> on Monday May 27, 2002 @04:14PM (#3592012) Homepage
    If it feels good, keep doing it.

    Start with the ergo guidelines, and adjust them until you're comfortable. When you get out of your chair at the end of the day, your hands shouldn't hurt, your back and neck shouldn't hurt...nothing should feel stiff or pained. I use a Kinesis Essential keyboard, type dvorak, and have my monitor raised much higher than is recommended, and at the end of the day, I feel great.

    And for those of you that are putting in 16 hours a day, non-stop, for months at a time: STOP. At the very least, try and get out for a couple half hour walks a day. Doing something that keeps you loose and somewhat fit will make you feel better, even when you're sitting at your desk.

    If you really hurt, stop what you're doing, go see a doctor. Listen to your body. It's no different from actual exercise. If it hurts, you're doing it wrong.
  • This may be too late for anybody to see it, but I hope it helps someone.

    I went through a bout of some kind of RSI -- pain, weakness, you know the routine. Thing is, I don't type at work more than half the time, and years ago I had held jobs typing 60 hrs a week with no problem. Also, my left arm was worse even though I mouse righty. Quite the mystery.

    I talked to my brother-in-law, an MD who knows something about RSI, and one of the first things he discussed with me was my sleeping position. That turned out to be it!

    I had been sleeping on my side, usually my left side, with my weight on my arm and/or shoulder. Once I stopped doing that (I switched to my back) the problems went away pretty quickly. These days, I start to notice right away if I slip into bad old habits and sleep on my side.
  • When people design stuff, they don't design it with health in mind. That's why we've wound up with safety regulations and agencies to back them up. You can't go by manufacturer's claims and expect that by following their rules you're going to be healthier—more often than not they just want to sell you their crappy product by using a marketing gimmick.

    An ergonomic keyboard alone won't help; you have to put your whole body into it. Pay attention to your neck and how far your mouse is, how straight your back is, etc. It may seem obvious, but it doesn't come into habit without effort. It's very helpful if you have a chair, desk, and monitor well suited to this. It's actually better if the monitor is low and pointing up at your face, and you keep your head pointing forward but your eyes looking down. It's less stress on your eyes.

    Now how many companies make setups like this? You have to pay a pretty penny to get a perfect setup for yourself. It's much cheaper to make unhealthy stuff :) Especially when there's research involved into making healthy products.

    Another good example is Dvorak vs. Qwerty. Dvorak is awesome. If you have pain in your arms, try learning Dvorak. It's pretty easy to learn and very efficient; you don't have to move your fingers very much to type. Most of the vowels are under your left finger tips, and must of the stuff you combine them with is under your right. You rarely have to hit keys below the home keys. But no one's going to teach it to you, and no one's going to sell your favorite keyboard in the Dvorak layout.

    IMO, Apple's Adjustable Keyboard (the funky one that split) was the best. The best feature was the fact that the numeric keypad wasn't on the main keyboard (it was a separate ADB device) so you didn't have to reach so far to use your mouse. (heh, since I've started using USB macs, I have this nasty habit of smashing my mouse into the corner of my keyboard. I don't have a mousepad to keep me in check.). Mircosoft's ergo keyboard is bloody huge. I wish more people would sell small keyboards. I only need the numeric keypad for games. BTW, I actually had to give that keyboard to my brother who was developing a pretty bad RSI. He's better now that he uses that keyboard instead of a normal one.

    It's actually healthier to use your left hand to control the mouse, so you don't have to stretch over the keypad (you lucky left-handed people you). It takes a bit of getting used to, of course.

    Try this. Go to a mirror, and check the height of your shoulders. Chances are your right shoulder (for people who use the mouse on the right side) is much lower than your left shoulder. If you raise it to match you'll feel a bit of pain. The problem's probably worse if you drive a standard transmission car :P Good habits can prevent problems like that. You can apparently fix this by keeping your shoulders up (helpful to give your elbows support from a chair that has adjustable armrests).



  • First a little history lesson: The keyboard is layed out to be intentionally difficult to type on. It is an artifact of early typewriters, when more efficient (e.g. Dvorak) layouts were allowing people to type faster than the mechanical mechanisms could respond, and key jams were occuring. The solution was to lay the keyboard out differently to slow the typist down!

    I use a standard keyboard with the tradition IBM style layout, and I will never experience RSI. Why? Because I simply use what I call the "modifed two finger hunt and peck" typing method. Modified because I will occasionally use other fingers, especially the thumb for the keyboard. I type as fast as my mother who was a secretary for thirty years, and I never, ever, ever have to worry about RSI.

  • more important than the spatial arrangement of the keys (which is in itself an important factor AFTER this) is SPRING keyboard action vs RUBBER MEMBRANE keyboard action -- nothing else matters as much as that if you want to avoid RSI.

    Dvorak on a good Spring Keyboard is the only way to go.

    regards,
    john [earthlink.net]


    • i had problems with RSI, but they went away after i switched from a rubber-membrane keyboard to a Spring action based keyboard.

      the other thing that helped was: LEARN TO PLAY A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT -- if you're getting RSI from always repeating the same mechanical movements, learning to play a musical instrument gives your muscles a chance to strengthen themselves with other sorts of movements -- this helped me a lot when i had RSI, and i took up learning how to play the BASS GUITAR. this gave more variety (and rhythm) to my muscle movements, and that helped to counter-act and strengthen my fingers against the effects of the RSI.

      regards,
      john.

  • What sucks is when an employer 1)won't do an ergonomic evaluation and/or says it's too expensive, ineffective based on their studies, or some other excuse and 2)won't let you bring in your own keyboard/mouse and make yourself comfortable.

    Fortunately that hasn't happened to me, but I know some people that are in very uncomfortable situations.
    OSHA doesn't care. Bush struck down the law that made employers actually *do* stuff. It's a pain sometimes..no pun intended
  • I strongly believe working habits can make a *huge* difference, and be most of the problem or solution.

    A few times in the past couple of years, I've worked with the keyboard in an odd orientation (off to one side, because I had other work front and center, or raised or lowered for other reasons), and it very quickly caused pain.

    It's pretty simple to prove to yourself; just set your keyboard off to a 30 degree angle to your side, and work for an hour of intensive typing. You'll feel it :-)
  • I've always wondered if my unique method of typing is the reason why I don't suffer much from RSI despite being on a computer 10-12 hours a day. After reading some of the responses, though, I'm pretty sure it is...because the way I type, I keep my wrists and hands at a more natural angle on a standard keyboard. The downside is that I cannot type on a split keyboard at all. I also can't type as fast as a touch typist (~50wpm is my max), but for my job, that's not a big deal. And if someone moves my keyboard 1/2" to the right, it gets me completely screwed up until I move it back... ;-D

    (For those who are curious, I use a really warped version of "hunt and peck" typing, but without the "hunt" part...I already know where all the keys are and just type primarily with two fingers, the middle ones, with occasional help from the index fingers or ring fingers. This method keeps my wrists elevated and removed the up/down angle entirely, and keeps my hands mostly parallel with my arms. I also use my arms more than my wrists to strike the keys, which takes a lot of the load off the tendons in my wrists. It looks fairly cumbersome, and when people see me type for the first time, they usually ask "What the hell are you doing?", but I've been doing it for so long now that it seems perfectly natural to me. I've tried to learn to touch type, but never could do it...partly, I think, because my fingers are rather stubby, and partly because I have some fine motor control problems.)

    I think when it comes to input devices, the right device is the one that feels the most natural to you. If it doesn't cause you any discomfort or pain over extended use and feels "right" to you, who gives a damn whether it's "officially" egronomic? ;) Half the "egronomic" stuff I've tried myself has either been really cumbersome, if not impossible, for me to use, or even more uncomfortable than my good old reliable square keyboard and mouse-shaped mouse... ;-)

    DennyK
  • I started to have problems with my wrists and fingers in typing about five years ago when I was working as a technical writer and writing books in the evenings and weekends. These pains were starting to interfere with my daily routine, and were being worr isome. I never got around to seeing a specialist, as the company I worked for collapsed and no one was retained. I'm much much better now.
    I did the following things:
    1) I switched mostly to using laptops for my typing, mostly Apple Powerbooks. The keybo ards require much less force than the majority of desktop keyboards I'm used to, plus putting the keyboard in my lap allowed me to drop my shoulders for better posture.
    2) More frequent and short breaks from typing. If I'm not typing, or thinking, I'll d rop either or both arms and relax them down through the wrists, hands and fingers. I'll also stretch and flex the arms and hands, and take short walks, even if I never leave the area of my desk.
    3) I took up music again after a few years off: I play a Chapman Stick [stick.com] which is a guitar/bass guitar-like instrument, played almost entirely by "hammer-on" tapping finger motions very similar to striking a keyboard (piano, or computer). By playing an instrument where I tap, but over a much wider area than on a computer keyboard, I'm exercising a wider and more varied range of motion of finger tapping than on a keyboard.
  • by pussyco (243391) on Tuesday May 28, 2002 @12:03PM (#3595396) Homepage

    Muscles are single acting; they can pull but they cannot push. Joints are double acting; they are powered both ways. The secret is that muscles come in antagonistic pairs, one to flex the joint, and on the other side, one to extend it.

    This is like the p-type and n-type transistors in CMOS. Turn on the n-type transistor to pull the output low. Turn on the p-type transistor to pull the output high. Both off at the same time for tri-state. Both on at the same time to short out the power supply and blow up the chip. In the human body, both muscles are off in the relaxed state. If both muscles are slightly on, this pre-stresses the tendons, taking up any slack, and effectively stiffening the joint. This is what you do for exacting fine work, e.g. embroidery or surgery. This is why such work is tiring, even when the external forces you exert are small. For ordinary work, you must coordinate your muscles so that they are non-overlapping.

    When you type on a mechanical typewriter, you push hard. I've just been measuring my old Olivetti Lettera 22. The keyboard is open underneath so it is a simple matter to dangle an icecream tub underneath and fill it with water until the rachet clicks to advance the carriage. 1.12 kg. 17mm of key travel. (* 9.81 1.12 0.017) = 186mJ. If you are typing 30 four letter words a minute that is (* (/ 30 60.0) (+ 4 1) 0.186) = 0.464 W. It is not hard physical work.

    1.12 kg, say 10N, feels like a lot if you are not used to it, but the significance lies elsewhere. It is way more than the force exerted by the relaxed tone in the muscles that control your finger. So to type a character you turn a flexor full on, and turn it back off again. The typewriter is geared at about 6 to 1, much like a piano, so the hammer is flying pretty fast. Its momentum slams it into the paper, making the impression and the rebound and the little coil spring in the typewriter bring your finger and the key back up. You literally never lift a finger. The springs in the machine lift your fingers for you. You can type with the extensor muscles relaxed all the time. Touch typing on a manual typewriter requires alot of coordination, but it does not require every kind of co-ordination. In particular you do not have to co-ordinate your flexors and extensors to avoid having them both on at the same time, because you never turn on your extensors at all.

    A modern mouse is very different. If you just plonk your hand down on top of it you click all three buttons. You have to use you extensors to not click. When I restarted using a computer after a lengthy illness, I rapidly got pains in my arms, from holding my fingers off the mouse buttons all the time. I had to learn to be just tense enough to stop the natural curl of my fingers from clicking the buttons. What happens when I click a mouse button? What is supposed to happen is that the extensor is turned off then the flexor is turned on, then the flexor is turned off, then the extensor is turned back on, so that they don't overlap. I've not done any electro-myography, but I don't believe it is happening like that. Briefly relaxing a muscle that is kept tense most of the time is difficult and time consumming. I bet that the flexor is turned on hard to over come the extensor. How much damage does that do? It probably depends alot on the office environment. If you are generally relaxed and have only just enough tension in your extensors to avoid accidental mouse clicks, I cannot see it doing much harm. If work is fraught, and you tense up to avoid mistakes, beware. The forces exerted when your flexors and extensors are on at the same time add up internally, but cancel externally. You might think that you cannot be stressing your tendons because the switches have a light action and you are not exerting much force, but if that force is the difference between the force exerted by the flexor and the extensor, your tissues might be under a great deal of internal mechanical stress.

    I suspect that much the same goes for a modern keyboard. You have to actively lift your fingers off the keys after the stroke. You don't have the option of flexor-only typing. So when work gets hectic and pressured, and your coordination is not 100%, you get flexors working harder to overcome extensors that are not being fully turned off, and lots of internal mechanical stress.

    My theory is that these internal stresses are larger than with a clnky old mechanical typewriter and are the cause of RSI.

    How can one find out if this theory is true? One way is to get a researcher interested enough in this theory to use electro-myography to find out if both muscles are indeed being turned on at the same time. Another way is to get a keyboard and a mouse with `heavy' long travel keys. This would make sense in a prospective study, in which you equip half a cohort of new users with the clunky mouse and key board, and follow up after five years to see who has RSI and who hasn't. It doesn't make much sense as a treatment. If you have learned to type on a light keyboard with your extensors turned on, the extra force needed to operate a heavier keyboard might be translated by habit into more activation of the extensors as well as more activation of the flexors. I cannot see a heavier keyboard in itself working as therapy, unless the sufferer can learn the flexor only typing technique it permits, and avoid falling back into flexor/extensor overlap habits when work gets hectic.

Premature optimization is the root of all evil. -- D.E. Knuth

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