Real life experiences from a Physical Therapist and Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist – as a User and Recommender
As a practicing Doctor of Physical Therapy and a Certified Ergonomic Specialist EAS, I have tried many keyboards and treated a multitude of work-related injuries that arise from clients being forced into awkward work postures.
There are many different ways in which we adapt our bodies to get through a workday. Using a laptop or standard keyboard you may notice yourself falling into one of the common positional faults highlighted below.
When using a standard keyboard you’ll notice your hands have to be quite close together. This places a great deal of stress on the wrists and pulls your shoulders inwards, starting a cascade of events that lead to a host of common musculoskeletal pains and injuries. To better understand, let me take you on a journey into my mind as I sit to write the first half of this article from a standard keyboard.
A Physical Therapist’s Experience Using a Standard Keyboard
Wow this design just doesn’t make sense! In order to type in a somewhat comfortable wrist position there is a massive amount of compensation and awkward positions the rest of my body is forced to deal with. My wrists are too pronated (faced down), elbows too flared out, back too flexed, shoulders too turned in and pulling on my neck. In response to this my neck and head move forward too and my center of mass is pushed too far ahead of my base of support (my seat). Many of us fall into this posture after some time at the desk. The combination of this creates a magnet-like pull of my whole body towards my screen until I eventually crash my weight onto my wrists on the desk. It’s only a matter of time before I find my chair drifting away from my desk. The only thing keeping me here now is my hamstrings and feet gripping the ground for dear life.
Another huge issue I have is the placement of the number pad on most standard keyboards. Notice how it’s directly in line with my right arm and hand. This would be great if a huge portion of my work required use of the number pad. Since most of my work requires more use of the mouse than the number pad it is a shame that the number pad takes up perhaps the most valuable real estate on my desk. For most professions this is a common issue that often goes unnoticed. To adapt I have to now place my mouse far out to the side of me and I find myself leaning on the right elbow and shoulder. In this position my back is slightly bent right and can feel more loading of my body weight into the right hip.
By now I have reached the point many people do when they know they need to change it up. So naturally the first move is to bring the chair way in, straighten the legs under the desk, slide down my chair loading the low back and tailbone. I guess becoming the lazy slider fixes all the issues we just had…only thing now is we are putting our joints, ligaments and discs in the spine under an incredible amount of strain while the muscles shut down. Over time our muscles get overstretched and weak and we can develop low back and pelvic issues (photo above).
As I inevitably get tired of this position I go into another common work posture, the prairie dog (photo above). We try to avoid the last two postures by moving to the front of the chair and leaving the backrest, holding ourselves in “perfect upright posture” as long as possible. This only leads to tight and fatigued muscles and is not sustainable for the length of an article let alone a 40 hour plus work week.
Whether you’re currently in pain, hoping to prevent injury or just trying to improve efficiency of typing, you should consider making the switch to split.
A Physical Therapist’s Experience Using a Tented Split Keyboard
In a world of endless ergonomic products, the Kinesis Freestyle 2 with VIP3 Tenting Kit stands out among the rest as the single biggest bang for the buck in terms of improving overall posture and reducing stress on the body. As I sit down at my desk and place my hands on the keys, I can immediately appreciate the various areas of my body that will benefit from this product.
I notice my hands and wrists in a slightly tilted, neutral position. As I type I can appreciate the weight of my arms being unloaded from my neck muscles because the keyboard spacing allows the armrests of my chair to do their job. I can feel the relaxation of muscles in the shoulder that normally tighten up when typing with unsupported and flared-out arms (see chicken wing photo above)
Moving closer to the spine I can feel my mid back and ribs sitting retracted and upright. My head feels light on my neck and the tension that is normally when I type on a standard keyboard seems to have gone away. I immediately appreciate the shorter width of this keyboard allowing my mouse to sit closer to my center, alleviating the pressure I felt in the right shoulder and hip from leaning right using the mouse with a standard keyboard.
With the elbows supported, my back sits upright using the lumbar support on my chair. I cannot tell you how many ergonomic assessments I’ve done watching people with expensive ergonomic chairs who never actually use the backrest they spent so much to have!
With this correction of my back angle, I can feel my center of mass over the base of support. I can feel my feet more grounded. I can appreciate the reduction in tension in the arches of my feet and no longer feel the urge to tuck my feet under my chair just to have them supported.
Humans are not meant to sit or stand all day strapped to a computer. It only takes a few minutes to fall out of a good ergonomic position. However, when using a split keyboard with a tenting option, your body remains somewhat neutral. If you fall back into your old flexed and inwardly rotated posture, your hands will be off the keyboard completely. This will make it hard to work, so you will naturally re-adjust yourself more often. I have worked with thousands of patients as well as consulted with many companies creating ergonomic programs. With that experience I can say I do not believe anyone has “bad posture.” I believe we will all fall into the postures that we are set up for. The key to preventing these types of injuries is not to become an ergonomic robot. The key is to set up a space that fosters wellness and movement!
Your body can tolerate a ton of torture…it just can’t tolerate the same torture to the same spot without a break to heal itself.
About the author
Dr. Weiss is a seasoned physical therapist and ergonomic specialist. He began his academic career at Hofstra University where he received his BBA in Marketing. He went on to earn his Doctorate in Physical Therapy with honors at Utica College.
Brett is a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist and co-founder of ErgoSesh, a company revolutionizing the way people work by educating, empowering and guiding them to a safer work environment through fully customized remote ergonomic consultations.
Brett has a passion for research and has authored studies alongside top research scientists at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute. He has published research in a variety of areas such as; falls prevention, ergonomic design, low back injury in personal care workers and shoulder injury in overhead athletes