A 2009 study of Polish researchers wanted to know the common symptoms experienced by office employees in workstations. The study had more than 450 participants, both men and women, working in social services firms in two towns. After analyses of their answers in the survey questionnaires, the researchers found that most of the symptoms such as pain are experienced in the neck, lower, and upper back, followed by the wrist or hands, arms, and elbows. One of the common reasons cited was position of the keyboard.
To have a better understanding on the effects of keyboard to poor health, David Kadavy, the best-selling author of Design for Hackers, explained:
"These problems are often a result of tension in the trapezius muscles. These muscles connect to your head, spine, and shoulder blade, and help support your arms. Standard keyboards can create tension in the trapezius muscles that run from the head, shoulder blade, and spine. It’s also the same muscles that provide support to the arms. When you’re using a standard keyboard, you’re forced to reach out your arms and keep them closer, in the process creating tension into your muscles. If you’re spending a lot of time typing on your keyboard, the tensed muscles will become strained.
Further, as your body moves forward, you tend to slouch. Bad posture can cause back pain in the long run."
He further stressed that you don’t have to feel any pain to verify that your muscles are becoming tensed. In one experiment, participants were surprised to know how small movements can mean many activities for the muscles.
Of course, the easiest way to avoid these injuries is to spend less time in your workstation, but given the nature of most people’s work, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. So the most practical option is to embrace ergonomics including in keyboard design.
A good ergonomic keyboard design is the split type. It’s basically a standard keyboard that is divided into two, with literally a gap in the middle. Just imagine breaking the keyboard—that’s what you’re going to get. Sometimes it has a third separate section for numbers.
The major benefit of a split keyboard is you can type away while providing comfort and rest for your hands and arms. With them, you don’t have to keep these body parts together, and in the process, you significantly reduce the tension of your trapezius muscles.
Moreover, since there’s no more reaching for the keyboards, you can prevent slouching, although to make sure this doesn’t happen, you also need to get a reliable ergonomic chair. The split keyboard is also much easier than the traditional one, so you can save your neck from excessive looking down.
Keep in mind, however, that ergonomic split keyboard is going to give you some learning curve. The first few days or even weeks of using it will be very awkward. But it takes 21 days to form a habit, which simply means just continue using it and you’ll get the hang of it.