Tech Savvy: Ergonomic tools can ease pain at work
Let's face it, sitting in front of a computer most or all day has a number of health repercussions, but technology is helping to change that. Standup desks are no longer a novelty and allow people more mobility, especially those who are really ch...
Let's face it, sitting in front of a computer most or all day has a number of health repercussions, but technology is helping to change that.
Standup desks are no longer a novelty and allow people more mobility, especially those who are really chained to computer tasks for their work day. Other options that help involve how you interact with the computer. Ergonomic keyboards have been around for some time as well, but they haven't always been entirely user friendly. As the straight keyboards have gone with lower profiles, meaning the keys are much flatter, making transitions smooth and fast, the ergonomic keyboards people may remember seemed clunky and quite massive. They took up considerable desk space. And for those who like the quiet of the flat keyboards, those old keyboards with their individual keys set apart like massive Chicklets with expanses between rows were also loud. It's hard to imagine the old days when people were pounding away on typewriters creating quite the cacophony. Now that sound seems nostalgic but I still wouldn't want to hear it all day everyday. If you have the only massive ergonomic keyboard in the office when everyone else is working quietly, self-consciousness quickly sets in when every keystroke is heard far and wide.
Co-workers often noted they may be willing to try an ergonomic keyboard but the size of it was off-putting.
Ergonomic keyboards work by matching the natural position of arms and hands. Rest your hands casually on your lap or on a desk and they'll be at an angle. A typical straight keyboard can make a person conform to a position that isn't as comfortable. There are divided opinions on whether an ergonomic-contoured or split-keyboard will reduce strain or help those already feeling the pain of repetitive movement. Some feel relief and can't imagine going back. Others can't imagine using that keyboard-although it typically becomes second nature quite quickly.
I've used a flat Apple keyboard for years and have a smaller (no number pad) Bluetooth version that can be used with an iPhone or and iPad. Looking for a flat-keyed version that is ergonomic as well took a little surfing. This week I tested out the Goldtouch Go!2 travel keyboard. It works with a PC or Mac with a switch of a button. The keyboard actually folds up for easy transport. That's a nice feature when using it as an accessory keyboard with a laptop. The Goldtouch keyboard is flat. It can be positioned like a tent with the split keyboards on either side of a raised center. The split keyboard can rest flat on the desk or have a slight incline at the center, allowing hands to be in a more natural position. A ball-joint connects the two sides. Just how wide the split should be is also up to the user. Having a keyboard that works for both PC and Mac has benefits as well, as users transition between the two and some keys (with different names on either platform) share the same key.
The Goldtouch keyboard has a Bluetooth option and one that plugs into a USB port on the computer depending on whether the tethered keyboard is desired or not.
Goldtouch isn't alone, there are other options for ergonomic keyboards, including brands like Kinesis and Freestyle. But some reviews noted there are differences for keystroke distances and some reviewers stated the Goldtouch was most like an Apple or laptop keyboard. Most reviews were favorable. The Goldtouch keyboard doesn't feel quite as substantial as a regular keyboard, such as the Apple version, but maybe that's to be expected as it's entirely plastic instead of having plastic keys set into a metal board. It isn't cheap at about $100. But for those looking for an option that still keeps a flat-key setup, it does the trick.
Upright or vertical mouse
Another item that may be even more beneficial in the search for a comfortable hand position is an upright ergonomic mouse. For those who have dealt with pain in the thumb, an upright mouse can provide relief. The benefits of an upright mouse-think of the traditional computer mouse and just stand it on its edge-are a more natural hand position. Think of it as though you were shaking hands with the mouse.
The track wheel and split top (or left and right click pads) traditionally on the top of the mouse are turned on the side and easily accessible. For Apple users who have a Magic Mouse, it does mean giving up the ability to slide a finger across the mouse to flip across screens or scroll left to right across a page, but the track wheel allows ease of movement up and down in a document or web page.
The shape of the upright mouse matches the shape and size of the hand, making it easier to grip. The idea is to release strain and muscle fatigue in the hand and the arm.
It doesn't take long to get used to using an upright mouse. To try the position without having one, just turn the mouse sideways in your hand until it stands on the right edge (for right-handers) and feel the difference. The relief in the thumb and wrist may be immediate.
I've tried an Evoluent upright mouse and an Anker model. Both have received positive reviews from looking at online searches. The Evoluent mouse seems to fit the hand better and hold the position. It's wider and allows the hand to rest in the grooved top. The Evoluent mouse is smooth where the fingers do the work but it has a non-slip surface for the palm so the hand can rest there easily without sliding off. It also retails in the $80 to $100 range.
The Anker upright mouse is more curved and narrow. Its surface is smooth throughout requiring more frequent repositioning. But it also retails for about $15.
There are other brands in the $20 range as well. What works may depend on how much time is spent on the computer. But any tool that makes work more enjoyable is worth a look and perhaps an investment.