Engineers Work the Angles for Computer Keyboards
Computers are everywhere. And it will be a while before data entry is done by voice alone. Until then, keyboard design is important in reducing problems like neck pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and wrist tendonitis. Do the new slanted, separated, and tilted keyboards help reduce these problems?

A physical therapist and an engineer at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, review the studies done so far to answer this question. Here's what they found in their investigation:

  • Symptoms of musculoskeletal problems occur in up to 50 percent of computer users. This compares to only 17 percent among people who don't use computers.
  • Using a mouse for more than 20 hours per week increases the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Chronic use of a keyboard (more than 15 hours per week) is more likely to cause neck, shoulder, and upper arm problems.
  • Experienced typists can switch from a regular (conventional) keyboard to a slant board without losing speed or accuracy.
  • Typing with the wrists in a neutral position (instead of cocked back in extension) may be better. There is less stress on the muscles and tendons of the forearms and wrists.
  • Slant angle keyboards place the forearms and wrists in a more neutral position. However, this hasn't been shown to reduce carpal tunnel syndrome.

    In theory, changing the design of the keyboard should reduce stress on the muscles and joints and decrease musculoskeletal disorders. No studies have been done to prove this yet. Typists who have used the new, improved set-up say it is comfortable and easy to make the adjustment. Not everyone may need a special keyboard. More studies are needed to find out what works and who needs it the most.
    Richard W. Marklin, PhD, CPE, and Guy G. Simoneau, PT, PhD. Design Features of Alternative Computer Keyboards: A Review of Experimental Data. In Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. October 2004. Vol. 34. No. 10. Pp. 638-649.