In recent years, ergonomic keyboards have been all the rage. The general idea is that ergonomic keyboards are more comfortable to use, lessen muscle strain while typing, and possibly reduce the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Yet, these claims are inflated. Before shelling out additional cash or more on an ergonomic keyboard, you should be aware of recent research suggesting that the benefits of ergonomic keyboards are outright untrue.
Here are the top six reasons why you shouldn’t waste money on an ergonomic keyboard:
1. Ergonomic keyboards don’t actually protect against injury, or help users recover from typing-related injuries.
The big selling point of ergonomic keyboards is that they prevent typing injuries and are useful to people who already have typing-related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. However, academic research has demonstrated that this is not actually the case.
Nancy Baker is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, holding a PhD in therapeutic studies. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health funded Baker’s research. She conducted an experiment with 77 subjects, all of whom suffered injuries related to typing. Their injuries included problem with hands, wrists, necks, and/or backs.
Using special technology, Baker videotaped participants typing. Participants also filled out weekly surveys rating their pain levels. About half of participants used an ergonomic keyboard, while the other half used a standard keyboard.
The somewhat surprising finding was that using an ergonomic keyboard had no effect on the pain level of participants. About 80% of participants were pain-free after two months. But that was true of both groups of participants—meaning that the extra expense of ergonomic keyboards just isn’t worth it. While many study participants were surprised by the findings, their meaning is quite clear.
In fact, Baker suggests that keyboards marketed as ergonomic keyboards should be called “alternative” keyboards rather than “ergonomic.” Experts in the field generally agree that “ergonomic” devices have been specifically fitted to individual users. One-size-fits-all “ergonomic” keyboards don’t fit the bill.
As for the claim that ergonomic keyboards prevent injuries, there is no clear evidence to support that claim. A lot of the research extolling the benefits of ergonomic keyboards was conducted by manufacturers of those keyboards, who have a clear, vested interest in promoting their products.
2. Ergonomic keyboards are not intuitive to use for experienced typists.
Most ergonomic keyboards are split down the middle, oftentimes with separated sections for numbers and function keys. This design requires most people to completely reconfigure the typing style they’ve already learned.
The next time you type something up, pay attention to how you’re typing. Chances are that you’re moving both hands all over the keyboard, unconsciously making calculations about how best to expend your movements. Most programs designed to teach typing will suggest that users do just that. For example, you may use your left hand to press the Y key, or your right hand to press the V key.
But with ergonomic keyboards, only one hand can access each half of the keyboard. This will require typists to completely alter their natural typing stance, slowing them down considerably. In many ways, ergonomic keyboards actually require users to expend more energy to do the same work.
3. Ergonomic keyboards don’t actually have a consistent meaning.
Google “ergonomic keyboards,” or maybe enter it into your favorite online shopping site. Chances are, you’ll see many different designs, from the traditional split keyboard to keyboards that are simply curved. There is no single design for an “ergonomic” keyboard. That’s because people have individual bodies and needs that cannot be adequately addressed by so-called “ergonomic” keyboards.
4. Ergonomic keyboards can actually cause certain injuries and fatigue.
Because ergonomic keyboards force users to keep their elbows at a wide distance from their bodies, usage can actually cause the elbows to become fatigued. In some cases, this can lead to injury.
When using the numbers and function keys, your upper arm has to move even more, tiring out your muscles further. This not only can cause additional injury, but will actually make you type more slowly. Having to constantly move your hands long distances can cause your wrists to twist—exactly the injury that users attempt to avoid when using an ergonomic keyboard.
In general, you will actually be using more muscles to type on an ergonomic keyboard. This means more energy expended and more potential for getting hurt.
5. Ergonomic keyboards make people type more slowly.
A lot of offices are buying ergonomic keyboards in bulk for use in the workplace. Yet this can actually have a negative effect on employee productivity. Employees who are accustomed to typing on a regular keyboard will take longer to perform the exact same functions, which will have negative effects on your organization as a whole. Even if writing an e-mail only takes thirty seconds longer, that difference spread out over multiple e-mails across an entire week can have a big impact.
6. Ergonomic keyboards cost a lot of money.
Although there is a wide price range for ergonomic keyboards, many higher end models cost $200, if not twice that amount. Especially if you will be purchasing a great number of keyboards for an office, those numbers can add up. Given that ergonomic keyboards actually come with numerous drawbacks, why overpay for a tool that doesn’t live up to its promises?
Sometimes, people get the design right in the first place. Such is the case for the good old-fashioned keyboard. Don’t fall victim to the hype promoted by ergonomic keyboard manufacturers. Ergonomic keyboards can actually be harmful to users and certainly aren’t worth the hefty price tag attached.