We’d like to propose a law that requires keyboard manufacturers to ensure their keyboards are ‘ergonomic’ before they are allowed to market their keyboards as ‘ergonomic’. It’s a term used so liberally today that it’s become virtually useless when you’re in the market for a truly ergonomic keyboard. But instead of waiting for this law to pass we’re going to fill in all the basics you need to know before buying. Spend ten minutes with this article and you’ll be able to make an informed decision on an ergonomic keyboard that could bring you lifelong benefits.
First, some evidence. Hold your arms straight out in front of your shoulders, parallel to each other, and note how far apart your hands are. Probably around 18-20” apart right? Now put your hands on your keyboard and start typing. Notice what happens when you cram your hands into a narrow 10″ space? Your forearms point in but your hands hinge outward at the wrist so that all your fingers can be on the keyboard.
That unnatural position creates lateral wrist strain. Sustained pressure in this manner can compress the nerve channel that runs through the wrist, sometimes resulting in some extremely frustrating carpal tunnel symptoms. So the first requirement for an ergonomic keyboard should be to address this lateral wrist strain. Do most ergo keyboards on the market today do this? Nope.
Next up is vertical wrist strain. It can be just as troublesome but for some reason it is much less mentioned in the ergonomic realm. Take another look at your hands as they type. Are they ‘reaching up’ to the keyboard? Is there an upward hinge from the wrists? This vertical reach also puts unnatural pressure on the wrist’s nerve channels. Want to guess how many companies address vertical strain in their “ergonomic” keyboards?
The other piece of bad news we need to mention is that most of the scientific research when it comes to carpal tunnel syndrome is inconclusive at best. No one is really sure if sustained pressure on the ulnar nerve causes carpal tunnel, or if carpal tunnel is exacerbated by sustained pressure on the nerve channels. Frustrating to hear right? The good news is that people who address the main causes frequently report a comprehensive reduction in pain. Awareness of lateral and vertical wrist strain are a big part of solving that puzzle.
The other, equally important component is overall body posture. Ever find yourself slumped back in your chair with your hands fully extended to your keyboard? Or sitting upright away from the backrest with your hands close to your body? It’s surprising how easy it is to laze into a position that is really, really bad for our body.
Notice the elbow and wrist compression in this pic? Now compare it to this one where the forearm is below the elbow and the wrist lies at a natural angle. Adding this final bit of info to your arsenal puts you miles ahead of keyboard manufacturers and will help you make an empowered decision on your workstation setup.
Remember, the overall goal is to keep it natural. Hands emanating straight out from forearms with no lateral or vertical strain. No elbow compression, no lower back compression. It’s all designed to keep your limbs in as natural of a position as possible while you sit typing away in a decidedly unnatural environment (at least from an evolutionary perspective).
That’s why our final “keyboard” recommendation is not even a keyboard, it’s a tray that offers the option to position the keyboard with a slight tilt downwards. This will keep your hands flush with the forearms and also keep your elbows at a natural angle. This “negative tilt” option has become a popular catchphrase in the ergo world, and when it’s used properly it can quickly eliminate the vertical wrist strain from your setup without having to swap out your keyboard. A very nice option to have for people who are smitten with their current keyboards.
Before taking a look at your best ergonomic keyboard options below, take one last glance at your current setup. Notice any lateral wrist strain? Vertical wrist strain? Where is your keyboard relative to your elbows and body? Keeping these questions in mind will help you decide which areas need immediate solutions.
One last thing, please keep in mind that the slightly unorthodox shape of some of the best ergonomic keyboards will require a bit of a learning curve. You’ve been typing on the same narrow space for a long time. If you make a living on your comp please factor in a transition period that will give any new purchase a bit of time to reap the lifelong benefits.
Keyboards Guide 2014 Best Ergonomic Keyboard
|Microsoft Sculpt Keyboard||Wireless design, addresses lateral and vertical wrist strain||$|
|Kinesis Freestyle 2||Wired split design, addresses lateral and vertical wrist strain (with attachments)||$$|
|Logitech K350||Wireless design, addresses lateral and vertical wrist strain||$|
|Kinesis Advantage||Mechanical keyswitches, addresses lateral and vertical wrist strain||$$$|
|3M Keyboard Tray||Keyboard tray addresses vertical wrist strain, optimizes overall body posture||$$|
The Sculpt has a subtle dome shape puts wrists and forearms in a natural position. Split keyboard on the upper half reduces lateral wrist strain. Spacious, padded wrist rest on the bottom reduces vertical wrist strain. Also comes with a detachable base plate to mimic negative tilt if desired.
Wireless design gives you infinite freedom in positioning the keyboard. Powered by 2 AA batteries and communicates with your comp via USB receiver.
Chiclet style keys with the keys next to the gap being slightly larger to facilitate touch typing.
Also comes with the option of including a wireless mouse in this model.
Now we’re talking! The Freestyle 2 has a split design that lets you put each half of the keyboard at shoulder width if you want. Adios lateral wrist strain!
The VIP attachments are optional to purchase but are necessary if you want to reap the full benefits of this design. VIP includes wrist pads to reduce vertical strain, and the slope attachments push up the inside edge of each half to this reduce any unneccesary torque from the shoulder all the way down to the wrist.
Wired keyboard via USB to your comp. There is some unorthodox key placement that will take some getting used to.
Max separation on this model is 9″, but they do offer a model with a max 20″ separation. Also availabe in Mac model.
Contoured wave design addresses lateral wrist strain. Cushioned palm rest addresses vertical wrist strain.
Wireless keyboard using the USB unifying receiver, powered by 2 AA batteries.
The function keys are programmable using Logitech’s proprietary Setpoint software (included)
5 year limited hardware warranty
Not for the faint of heart! We include the Advantage as an option for those who make a living on their keyboards and need a permanent ergonomic workstation.
Single-pieced unit with split keyboard that keeps hands close to shoulder width. Elevated base of unit reduces any vertical strain in the wrists.
This is the only fully mechanical keyboard on our Ergonomic list. The Advantage uses Cherry Brown keyswitches. These are popular ‘hybrid’ switches with 45g actuation force and subtle tactile feedback.
Please keep in mind there is a learning curve present given the unorthodox key placement.
Onboard memory allows key re-mapping and up to 48 macros.
Yes, our final recommendation is not an actual keyboard, it’s a keyboard tray! The real advantage of this keyboard tray is the user customization. You can adjust the height and tilt of the keyboard to minimize vertical wrist strain. It can also keep your hands slightly below your elbows to reduce elbow compression.
Adjustable from 2” above mounting surface to 5” below mounting surface. Tilts from 10 degrees forward to -15 degrees backward (negative).
The all wood construction minimizes instability. Attaches to bottom side of desk with mounting screws included.
Included wrist rest for additional support.