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Ergonomics, Injuries, & Keyboards
franklin dematto

 2:02 am on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

I (attempt to) follow all the official ergonomic guidelines for typing, yet my hands are in pain. (At least the guidelines eliminated the pain temporarily). I decided to buy a keyboard tray, but was shocked to see the prices (~$200) and huge varieties.

So, could anyone tell me their experience and opinion with them? What things to look for, what things to avoid? And how do they attach to your desk?!

In general, I know that this business can be quite a destructive one. I believe that I read that the number one cause of workplace industries is - typing! Does anyone have any recommendations (other than giving up computers and becoming a chef)? Has anyone had someone come to their workplace and give an evaluation, or found some type of treatment helpful?



 2:40 am on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

Perhaps not a great solution but have you concidered a dictation program where you talk and it types. Something similar to via-voice perhaps?

Here are a few tip I was shown about a year ago.

Avoid always sitting in the same position to the keyboard, a slight difference can avoid a repetative strain jujury.

Try to develop a typing sytle where you use as many fingers as possible. Most people only use one finger on each hand and are able to type at fairly high speeds. in effect try to spread the load.

Type at a relativly easy pace, trying to type faster than normal leads to increased preasure per keystroke.

Try to type without your fingers actualy leaving the keyboard, almost slide them from key to key and apply only light preasure. the less noise from key clicks the less damage you are doing to your nerve endings.



 5:22 am on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

I have never read a thing on ergonomics or repetitive motion associated with redundant typing, but I can offer some sound advice based on my knowledge of music!

I'm a pianist who spends literally hundreds of hours playing the piano each month. I do not have any injury associated with ergonomics or repetitive motion, even though my fingers are agressively striking the keyboard at accelerated speed and long endurance.

To my knowledge, there has never(?) been a professional pianist who sued anyone for repetive motion injury, carpal tunnel disease, etc. In fact, we (pianists) tend to view stories of repetitive motion maladies as 'hard to believe.'

I also spend several hours per day typing at the computer keyboard, and I do believe the typing stories. Typing at a computer can be very damaging. So why the difference?

As far as I can determine, it is the surface height of the keyboard. The average office desk is far too high to type on. The piano keyboard is much lower, almost resting atop the thighs; hence, the hands point downward a bit and there is less strain on the wrists, and the muscles/nerves/tendons/ligaments that pass through them. Suggestion: if you cannot lower the desk, highten the chair.

I also agree with macks suggestion for proper typing, using all your fingers :)

Robert Charlton

 5:54 am on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

This kind of problem can be very serious. Some years back, I was having a huge amount of trouble with my shoulder, embarked on physical therapy, and they warned me if I didn't do my exercises I might permanently lose the use of my shoulder.

The exercises didn't help, and it was only by chance that I discovered the problem was computer-related. I was away from my computer for a week and my shoulder started getting better.

It turned out that my computer desk was about three or four inches too high, and the problem was from using my mouse (I'd just converted to Windows from DOS). Since I'd built the desk myself using unfinished furniture store drawer pedestals as supports, it wasn't too difficult to cut the height down.

Roughly, the ergonomics of this are:
- When you sit, your butt should be very slightly higher than the bottom of your legs at your knees.
- At this height, when you look straight ahead, with your eyes level, your eyes should be roughly at the middle of your screen.
- Drop your arms straight down and raise your forearms so they're horizontal. This is roughly your typing position. You should have wrist rests, etc, and, ideally, all heights should be independently adjustable.

I decided to buy a keyboard tray, but was shocked to see the prices (~$200) and huge varieties.

So, could anyone tell me their experience and opinion with them? What things to look for, what things to avoid? And how do they attach to your desk?!

When I was lowered the desk, I considered using a keyboard tray instead, but I couldn't find anything satisfactory. They all seemed to wobble just enough to be annoying... I didn't see anything that was adjustable... A pull-out tray seemed to be a gerry-rigged retrofit that would leave all my work areas at different heights... and there was an appalling lack of information on boxes the tray units came in about things like width, depth, etc.

I've lowered the desk to 26"... not adjustable as I'd like... and it works for me, though every once in a while I wish I'd made it an inch lower. Height will vary depending on your lower leg length (which affects chair height), your trunk height, your upper arm length, etc.

I'd love to get more educated feedback on this.

Perhaps not a great solution but have you concidered a dictation program where you talk and it types. Something similar to via-voice perhaps?

I understand that dictating all day can lead to its own variation of repetitive stress that will affect vocal cords.

I'm finding that sitting for the hours needed to finish projects is also a problem. I schedule two or three walks a day, not to mention stretches and swimming, but if I put in several days of long sessions at the computer, my legs get really messed up... they need more exercise.


 6:09 am on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

> found some type of treatment helpful?

Yoga, posture training, trigger point therapy, and a healthy diet high in magnesium rich foods. (Magnesium is one of the main nutrients the body needs to relax muscles.)


 6:23 am on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

I used to get cramps and pain in my wrists and arms and even my back until I figures out how to solve it.

Make sure that your arms are supported elbow to wrist in a table.

I cringe now when I look as those desks at office depot that have the little slide out keyboard trays (which make up about 80% of all computer desks).

I went out and bought one of those very common, multi-purpose brown rectangular tables that have the legs that pop out underneath them. Its great because its very deep, so I can put the keyboard and mouse all the way to the back and have my whole arm supported. Plus they're really cheap compared to most desks.


 8:09 am on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

It seems that wrist problems only started for most people with the advent of the computer. Because the keyboard only needs a soft touch to respond most people tend to rest their wrists on the desk which puts their fingers at a higher level and strains their wrists.

As keyplyr states there is no such complaint with piano players because their wrists are in line with their hand and not below.

All keyboard users should type while holding their hands in the same position as a piano player. That's what I have done for 40+ years and never had strain problems.


 3:34 pm on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

As I'm typing this my keyboard is resting on my lap and I'm sitting in a $500 chair. I used to get pains in my elbow (from resting my arms on the table as I typed) and calluses on on wrist (from resting my wrists on the table as my fingers worked the keyboard) but those are going away now.

The proper form for typing (from what I was taught) is that your arms and wrists should not rest on anything but rather be suspended above the keyboard. I use a foldable table as my desk with a height of 30" - perfect monitor height for me so the only alternative was to lower the keyboard. A keyboard tray seemed too chinsey and my seat is adjusted such that my thighs are nearly parallel to the floor. So...my thighs become my keyboard tray. ;)

As with any computer job though, giving your body rests or at least shifting positions is highly recommended. I'm also concerned about my eyes and have a window to the left of my screen that allows me to focus across the street which relieves my eye strain.


 6:43 pm on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

I agree with lorax that a good chair is essential. This is not easy if you've got problems as a result of your office computer's position, nor if you can't afford to spare the money for your own "office". But it'll save you from a lot of aches, pains and, eventually, worse.

Since I got an "executive chair", which allows me to fidgit and generally move about as I work at my desk, I've eliminated the aches I used to get.

Incidentally, I read somewhere that the first recorded cases of RSI date from the seveteenth century, when musicians began to complain of it. If musicians don't get it now, then maybe the designers of computer equipment, desks, etc should look at the history of musical instrument design to see what was done to improve things.


 7:25 pm on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

Musicians definitely suffer from RSI - as a Google search will demonstrate. But they certainly don't have as much of an issue as typists and information workers.

I think the main reason is that musicians have teachers who teach proper technique. Still those techniques are only partially about protecting the body health - they are mostly about how to have optimal control over musical expression.

As both a musician and an information worker, I've wrestled with RSI a good bit and the physical suggestions here make sense - in a sense, this is the parallel to haveing a music teacher.

However, in the last few years I've made some dietary changes that have helped me at least as much as all the posture information -- and probably more. Jane_Doe's observation about magnesium rich foods is on target, and there's even more.

I've found that having all the principle and trace minerals, and having them in proper balance, is a very important factor for reducing RSI. That includes have all the support elements in my digestive system that help the body to utilize the nutrients.

Think of the attention that athletes put on nutrition that supports their body's function. We're in a parallel situation, and fixing our posture is only part of what we need to help our bodies perform well.


 8:34 pm on Oct 26, 2003 (gmt 0)

I guess that means no more beer and pizza for lunch.


 9:00 pm on Oct 28, 2003 (gmt 0)


First let me recommend the book: It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome! RSI Theory & Therapy for Computer Professionals by Suparna Damany and Jack Bellis.

I personally have had some limited success with voice recognition software (it works for dictating to Word, but for writing code, forget it).

The best results I've had are actually from buying a bowflex and using it on a daily basis. Aside from the regular strength training program, I do a few warmup exercises for the arms and shoulders before I start typing every day. This is not to say you need to buy a home gym, but if you're not doing much for exercise now, you might find it helpful to start, especially stuff that involves the upper body.

PS. Piano uses your upper body much more than typing does, so the burden isn't so much on your hands. It's kind of a different beast. Not to mention even a professional pianiast probably doesn't put as many hours onto the piano as many typers put onto the keyboard. When you take into account how many of us do it all day for an employer then come home and work on our own webpages or worse play games...


 3:03 pm on Nov 4, 2003 (gmt 0)

...and calluses on on wrist

How many hours(days) in a row were you there typing?


 3:28 pm on Nov 4, 2003 (gmt 0)

There is a typing glove available that ads further support to your wrists to provide relief from CTS, tendinitis, etc... I've heard of people proactively using them to keep from getting some of these injuries in the first place.

franklin dematto

 6:20 pm on Nov 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the info, everyone.

I've done some more research myself. Basically, I've read everything I can find on the topic (from Cornell University, OSHA, HP, and some private websites), and gone with the consensus.

The most important thing seems to be typing with a neutral position in your arms and wrists. This can best be done with an adjustable height, negative tilt keyboard tray.

Next, comes good posture, in a decent (not necessarily fancy or expensive), adjustable chair with lower back support. And positioning everything in line, where you don't have to reach or twist.

The mouse is a big culprit as well - many substitutes exist, the best is probably a gesture pad.

My posture, chair, and setup are already pretty good. I already ordered a gesture pad. So, I'm off to finding and ordering a keyboard arm & tray...

One thing I can't fiugre out: How do these things attach to your desk? Do I need to drill holes in my desk (yuck!)?

And, does anyone else have any experience or recommendations (positive or negative), with keyboard arms & trays? Things to look out for...


 7:29 pm on Nov 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Lotsa good advice in this thread. :)

Get an ergo keyboard kb and you'll never regret it. Nor, will you have any need for kb holders or other such devices. Assuming your keyboard is properly positioned, that is.

Depending on the type (I use Microsoft's), you may find a few numbers located slightly different than you may be used to.

I went wireless on my mouse which is quite nice too.

Since I went ergo (posture/positioning has always been important), I've enjoyed much less pain and my overall speed and accuracy have increased.


franklin dematto

 9:37 pm on Nov 11, 2003 (gmt 0)

Quick update on keyboard trays:

It seems the best two are HumanScale and WorkRite. Anyone have any experience with or recommendations on either?

franklin dematto

 9:40 pm on Nov 11, 2003 (gmt 0)


I'm surprised that you say that an ergo (which I assume you mean split and tilted) keyboard solved all problems. These keyboards address ulnar deviation - twisting your wrist to the left or right. But they don't help for other things - extending your wrist up and down, extending your arms and back, reaching, etc. Did you only have specific problems in one area?

Also, how did the wireless mouse help things? I have found the problem to be the grasping of the mouse, not the cord.


 12:06 am on Nov 12, 2003 (gmt 0)

I'm sure you'd find my setup hilarious, but I'm using a lazyboy recliner as my office chair. We moved into a smaller apartment, so I needed some place to put our extra chair, so I put it in front of the computer and stowed away the smaller computer chair. I put my keyboard in my lap and use my optical mouse on the arm rest (it works perfectly).

I've never been more comfortable working on a computer in my life. I'm working from home right now, so I'm often in front of the computer for full 8-hour days.

The only problem I have is that my setup puts me a lot farther away from the monitor. Instead of being 18 inches away, I'm closer to 3 feet away so it's a little harder on the eyes. I've got a 19" monitor set with larger font sizes, but my eyes get a little blurry after using it for a while.

I used to have all kinds of problems with my wrists and elbow and they've pretty much disappeared. The great thing about this is I can sit in different ways, so I avoid the repitition. It's pretty amazing. :-)

franklin dematto

 1:46 am on Nov 14, 2003 (gmt 0)

A salesman from a reputable ergo company came by today. He was quite helpful, and lent me some products to try out. If anyone is interested in the details, sticky mail me (Baltimore/Washington area).

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