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posted on: Mar 16th, 2018 category:rehabilitation, news

by Shalynn Robinette, PTA, CES

What is ergonomics? Simply put ergonomics is the study of how people work within their environment.

Applying ergonomics to your workstation setup helps reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries. It allows you to adapt your environment to fit you instead of making you adapt to your environment. One small but very important component of home or office ergonomics is keyboard set up.

There are several conditions, such as hand, wrist or elbow tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome that can result from using your keyboard incorrectly. These conditions can take several years to develop but once present can be very difficult to reverse. That is why it is important to take a proactive, preventative approach to your workstation set up.

Most keyboards have those little swing-out feet on the bottom that let you tilt the keyboard upward. This design was intended for those who need to look at the keyboard while typing—allowing the letters to be seen more easily. It is NOT ergonomically beneficial for those who type looking at the monitor or a document.

Do a couple of imaginary air-pushups. Pay attention to how your wrists and forearms feel in that position. For most of us there is strain along the top of the wrist and forearm and a stretching sensation on the underside, this is because wrists are designed to bend more comfortably in the other direction.

With that in mind, positive keyboard tilt (feet flipped out and monitor edge higher than the desk edge) forces your wrists into a less extreme version of this “push up” position. It may not be uncomfortable for short periods, but the cumulative effects of even minor strain over weeks and years can have negative and lasting consequences.

To address this, neutral tilt is a good start. Neutral means the keyboard is lying flat on the work surface (so flip those feet back inside the keyboard). Negative tilt is even better! A good adjustable keyboard tray will let you tilt your keyboard down (meaning the edge closest to the monitor is lower than the edge closest to you) which puts your wrists in a more comfortable position.

Here are a few more tips for setting up your keyboard and tray.

1. If you don’t currently use an adjustable keyboard/mouse tray consider mounting one to your work station. This allows for a much broader range of adjustments. Try to choose a system that allows for both height and negative tilt options.

2. When adjusting the height of your keyboard tray the keyboard should be just a few inches above the level of your thighs (when seated) this allows for your elbows to be in a more “open” comfortable angle.

3. If you use a keyboard tray make sure there is enough room for your mouse so that you don’t have to reach for it.

4. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows at your side when typing.

5. Use a light touch on keyboard and mouse. The tendons from your fingers connect near your elbow so striking the keys too forcefully can lead to unexpected problems in forearms and elbows.

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