Your keyboard, mouse and other tools of the trade
Many computer users overlook the importance of the keyboard and mouse to workstation ergonomics. Some keyboard designs may force people to position their wrists at an unnatural angle. And right-handers may find that keyboards with number pads exacerbate the situation by forcing them to hold the mouse at an off-center position to the right.
Some vendors have tried to address that problem by offering keyboards that are split in two, with the keys positioned on an arc. These models often don’t include an extension on the right with dedicated number keys, and instead may be sold with separate number pads. One example is the keyboard that Microsoft sells in its Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop system, which includes a wireless keyboard, number pad and mouse. Keyboards like the Sculpt model take some getting used to, but you may find that the effect is a more natural position that preempts the advent of RSI.
What works best when it comes to the mouse can vary depending on whether you’re left-handed or right-handed, and your preferred grip type, the size of your hands and your physique. Some users of ergonomic mice — such as the ones from Evoluent, which feature vertical grips — say they help relieve or even eradicate discomfort or pain in their wrists or forearms.
Regardless of what style of keyboard or mouse that you opt for, wireless models — like the Logitech MX Master mouse — may offer more flexibility, though you’ll periodically have to change batteries or to recharge them. An adjustable keyboard tray may also help to keep your wrists and forearms in the proper position.
It may also be worth considering a multiple-monitor workstation. The additional screen space could help reduce stress on your wrist by cutting down on the amount of mouse movements and clicks you need to sift through overlapping application windows.
Another way to reduce the risk of RSI, is to use speech recognition software to cut down on the amount of typing and mousing you have to do. Nuance, maker of the Dragon line of speech-recognition systems, offers tools designed to give you the ability to create a totally hands-free workflow. If you go that route, you might want to use a headset with a microphone to capture your speech. There are plenty of headsets to choose from; one option is the Plantronics Voyager Focus UC, which is a comfortable wireless model with an adjustable microphone boom.
While one of the core tenets of office ergonomics is to sit at 90-degree angle, there is ample evidence that sitting still for long hours a day is not healthy, so you might want to explore the possibility of moving to an adjustable-height desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing during the workday.
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There are two main categories of such desks: motorized models, such as those from Uplift Desk, which must be plugged into wall sockets, and models that are adjusted manually. Basic motorized desks typically come with simple “up” and “down” buttons, while more sophisticated models may have programmable buttons for specific positions or even digital displays that show the height of the desk.
The majority of manual adjustable desks are equipped with cranks that raise or lower the desktop to the desired height. However, there are some that don’t have cranks and instead feature a mechanism that allows the user to simple pull the desktop to the desired height, at which point it is secured with an integrated brake. Ergotron offers a line of non-crank adjustable desks.
One way to get the advantages of an adjustable-height workstation without buying a new desk is to get an adjustable monitor-and-keyboard holder that can be mounted on your existing desk. Again, Ergotron offers several products for retrofitting existing desks, including desks with narrow depths, though a quick search on Amazon reveals a bunch of similar offerings.
Ultimately, hardware is only part of the solution. There’s no substitute from taking regular breaks to stretch and walk around. You can also periodically alternate tasks — instead of, say, typing a document, you could switch to reading a report or dictating an email message with speech-recognition software. Most of all, remember that nothing quite beats adopting a healthy, non-sedentary lifestyle outside the office.