Today, when you purchase a desktop computer, one of the staple items that you will most likely receive is a standard or traditional keyboard. These are typically long and clunky, something that really hasn’t changed much in its design since the 1990’s. And it is a common reason why there is so much shoulder discomfort and pain in offices. Perhaps, even more than that irritating project that is causing you a ‘pain in the neck’, but I digress.
Lets talk about size. Size does matter! This is especially true with keyboard design. Most users are using a keyboard that is designed for someone much larger than them. The length of the keyboard should technically be proportional to the size of its user. This is the same for any item that you would buy. Take for instance, shoe size. There is no such thing as an ‘average’ shoe size. There are tiny shoes, huge shoes and if anyone does not wear a good size for their foot, they will most likely develop pain and probably an injury if they continue to wear these shoes.
Anytime we work outside what is considered to be a ‘neutral’ or natural working posture, it can increase our susceptibility for an injury to occur. This is especially true if there are other ergonomic risks present. I like to think of a neutral type of posture is how our bodies would naturally rest. For the shoulder, a resting position would be with your arm naturally hanging very near to your torso so you wouldn’t feel any strain in your shoulder joint; basically you would be able to ‘hold’ this position for a very long period of time because it would be very comfortable to you. If you were to bend your elbow at about 90 degrees, this would be the ideal posture to mouse with as your arm is in a very comfortable and relaxed position.
With the traditional keyboard design, you can see that its length is creating a space between your torso and arm (away from the ‘neutral’ position) and overtime, this can cause strain to the shoulder joint that can result in pain. In Ergonomics, neutrality is key. There are a number of factors that should be taken into account before purchasing a keyboard:
- Keyboards should be proportional to the user’s shoulder width to accommodate neutral mousing.
- Keyboards should be chosen for the user’s most common work tasks: for example mostly data entry tasks versus strictly design work.
- The handedness (right or left hand dominance) of the user should be considered.
A traditional keyboard is technically designed for left handed users. When looking at its design, you will see that when you centre the lettered keys (typically between the G/H keys) is in front of you, there is space that is directly in front of the left shoulder and keyboard that is perfect for mousing. This is considered to be an extremely neutral left shoulder posture and you would not need to purchase a different keyboard if this matches your scenario.
If you are a right handed user with a traditional keyboard, and are experiencing right shoulder pain, the ‘simple’ solution is to switch to left handed mousing. I say simple because it will take some time to get totally comfortable with it. It usually takes about 1 day to accommodate left handed mousing, and a week to be an expert at it. That’s all. If you are unable to comfortably left hand mouse, you can look at getting a compact keyboard, such as the Microsoft Arc or alternative, such as the Evoluent Mouse Friendly keyboard. The good thing is that there are many different types of compact keyboards that are available on the market today and these just happen to be the ones that I have used and like (Note: This is NOT a paid endorsement from these companies). Compact keyboards can be combined with an external number pad if you still require the functionality of a number pad. The external number pad would simply be moved to within an easy-to-reach and comfortable position whenever required and if it is not required, simply be placed in an area further away.