ergonomic keyboard/lapdesk for use on lap?
July 8, 2013 1:02 PM   Subscribe

What ergonomic keyboard or lapdesk I can use on my lap, while sitting on my couch, to reduce RSI pain in my wrists and forearms?

Looks like I have cubital tunnel syndrome, which manifests itself in my case as pain in my forearm from my ring finger to my elbow (and tenderness and tingling when I press it). I've been wearing an elbow splint at night to keep my elbow straight while I'm sleeping, but so far it hasn't helped. I'm wondering if typing might be causing/exacerbating it.

I use a MacBook Pro, on which I type for 12+ hours a day while sitting on my couch. I sometimes set up my external monitor on a monitor stand in front of the couch, but I don't mind angling my notebook screen up a bit and looking down at it while I type. I am open to the idea that I might be doing many things wrong at once.

They say cubital is caused by resting the ELBOWS on hard surfaces, which I do not do, but i DO type with my wrists resting on my MacBook like this:

The point of contact against the notebook's unibody is the point where my wrist meets my palm on the outer edge, if you drew a line from the pinky, here:

I was thinking maybe if I take the pressure off my wrist it could help with the pain. I live in a small Brooklyn apartment and I'd prefer not to have to get a desk if possible. Can I continue to work sitting on my couch?

Maybe it makes more sense just to buy an ergonomic keyboard like this: or even this:
(though I really wish it had a trackpad in the middle there!)

I'd actually prefer not to have to carry a keyboard, since I work a lot in coffee shops (where I also usually find a couch). Can I even use an external keyboard on my lap, or would I run into the same problem?

Other possibilities:
- wear some kind of ergonomic wristband like this:
- get individual gel wrist wrests, one for each wrist, and stick them on my MacBook. Like these:

Other notes:
- pain is in my left arm only, so it's not caused by trackpad or clicking, which I do with my right hand
- I use Emacs, which is keyboard only (and my capslock key is remapped to act as ctrl), but I do use trackpad for some things, such as scrolling web pages or selecting lines from PDF documents for copy-paste, and I do find it very convenient to have the trackpad right there between my hands
- I prefer my trackpad to a mouse
posted by incandescentman to Computers & Internet (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I would suggest sitting at a desk that's ergonomically correct.
Your palms or wrists shouldn't be touching while you are typing (and that might be hard to do from a couch position.)

I can recommend the MS Natural 4000 but I sit at a desk.

recommended link

(also, I know an emacs user who swears his RSI went away when he switched to dvorak keybindings...)
posted by Spumante at 1:33 PM on July 8, 2013

If you want to keep using the couch, I would recommend an adjustable-height laptop stand. There are lots of them available, ranging from $20-200 and probably more, but the important thing is that you can adjust them to the correct height for your use while you're sitting on the couch. I use this cheap one from Ikea. They're usually foldable in some way and don't take up much room in a small apartment.

The other thing I'd tell you, as someone who's got similar RSI problems, is that trackpads are the devil and you should probably avoid using them. If you must, then at least avoid putting your wrist at an angle while doing so (if that's even possible). I keep a mouse with me when I'm traveling and only use the trackpad if it's going to be just a few minutes on the laptop. (On rereading your question, looks like this may not be an issue for you at present, but in case the problem spreads to your other arm, I'll leave it here.)

Try to stick with ergonomic principles as much as possible, tedious as it is to get your workspace set up for it. It pays off in less pain later. You do want to do everything you can to arrest or reverse this; even icing may be a good option.

It's also easier to avoid doing all the awful things to yourself with stronger muscles -- the tendency to slouch and let my wrists sag against the laptop isn't nearly as strong if I've been doing weight training. On the other hand, it can be tricky to work on that if you're already in pain.

If you do come to the conclusion that you're going to need an external keyboard, there are lots of new mechanical keyboards available now, with some really nice-feeling switches. Mine (with Cherry MX Red switches) doesn't tire me out nearly as fast as typing on a membrane keyboard does. You might try some out to see what kind of switch you like, and then there are a ton of layout options, including some expensive split-keyboard styles.
posted by asperity at 1:42 PM on July 8, 2013

Try this one - But I agree with Spumante. Nothing should hurt while you're typing.

Many keyboards now come with rests that you put your wrists on to keep typing pain to a minimum.

Also, there is software that projects a keyboard from a cell phone or other device - - and remote control software - - so you don't have to carry a keyboard.
posted by CollectiveMind at 2:01 PM on July 8, 2013

I, too, have the tendency to rest my wrists on my MBP, right on the edge. These gloves keep my wrists up and cushion them, and I don't feel as much pain.

How about trackballs? You don't need to move your hand around, just your fingers for rolling the ball and clicking. Takes a little while to accustom to, but trackpads take some adjusting time too.
posted by curagea at 3:40 PM on July 8, 2013

Thank you for the amazing answers so far.

Am I right in thinking that the main problem we're positing about sitting on the couch is that it might make it find a position where my wrists aren't pressing into the unibody? But that if I could find a couch-sitting setup where they weren't, that would be acceptable? I just tried the MS ergonomic keyboard, resting it on my lap while I was in a sitting position, and my wrists seemed to be cushioned on the wristpads, successfully avoiding pressure from hard surfaces. Would this work, or do I also need a desk?
posted by incandescentman at 5:09 PM on July 8, 2013

Well, the wrists pressing into the unibody would certainly be a problem, but ideally you also want your wrists to be straight, preferably at around a right angle from your upper arms. Difficult to do without another surface unless your elbows extend all the way down to your lap. So, laptop stand or even one of those lap desks with the beads/styrofoam/whatever underneath (just make sure it's actually thick enough to fill that space between lap and forearms).

Tip for getting some air clearance under the laptop and also a better angle on it for typing when you've got it on a flat surface: a couple of ordinary erasers underneath the back corner feet. Cheap, portable, grippy, and effective.

You can get a decent approximation of an ergonomic setup with the couch, but it'll probably need that bit of adjustment to get your keyboard high enough. (Regular tables as at coffee shops or dining tables or whatever tend to be too high for me to type comfortably, but YMMV on that.) A pillow at your back can help if you're leaning back too far, though with a laptop it's tricky to get it high enough that you're not looking down at your screen. Either an external keyboard or external monitor can help with this, but then you're into real-desk territory. For the cheap, portable way to get height where needed (foot rest, monitor height, etc) I suggest using some old textbooks or phone books.
posted by asperity at 9:51 AM on July 9, 2013

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