Many people think ergonomic keyboards are only for people who have trouble with RSI, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, or other ailments of the hands and wrists. The truth is, we should all be using them because the traditional keyboard wasn’t put together with human comfort in mind. It causes three main problems with positioning of the hands, according to Suparna Damany & Jack Bellis in their excellent book on RSI (link below). These problems are:
- Ulnar Deviation: This is the way we cant our wrists from the normal straight position in order to get our fingers to line up correctly on home row. “The problem is so pronounced for some RSI patients that they have their wrists permanently locked in this ulnar deviated position” (p. 198).
- Pronation: This is when you twist your forearm “as you bend the thumbs down to flatten your hands” (I can especially see feel this when I take my hands off the keyboard and pantomine the motion for hitting the space bar).
- Dorsiflexion: This is when you bend your hand up at the wrist, which traditional keyboards encourage you to do, especially if you drop your wrist onto the rest to type. (I used to wonder why more typists seem to get RSI than professional pianists, and I think this is part of it, or rather something they don’t do, because they’re forced to hold their arms out which not only engages more–bigger–muscles to do the work but allows their hands to work in a more natural position)
So, which keyboards eliminate all these problems? Go for the split ones that tilt up in the middle. My Kinesis Contoured has been a good choice for me. The book mentions the Kinesis Maxim, but I like the Contoured because it also changes the layout of some of the keys (putting Enter, Delete, and other oft-used keys beneath your thumbs instead of the weaker pinky fingers). Based on my experience with the Microsoft Natural and a few others, I’d definitely recommend going with a company that specializes in ergonomic products rather than an ergonomic line from a bigger company. The MS Natural I had actually bugged my hands more than my old regular keyboard because the keys required a fair amount of effort (relatively speaking) to depress.