Good keyboards for RSI problems
December 16, 2005 12:24 PM   Subscribe

RSI - a dear friend has bad repetitive injuries (carpal tunnel problems) gets bad when she types....and allieviates when she stops. Oh, yeah, she's a professoinal writer. No - not RSI advice....keyboard advice. Have you (or someone you know) had comfort (or a reduction of discomfort) from using a particular keyboard?

USB is a must; I'm just trying to avoid telling them to try 30 keyboards.
posted by filmgeek to Health & Fitness (36 answers total)
Learning to type Dvorak really helped me, as well as a split keyboard, like the MS Natural.
posted by teece at 12:27 PM on December 16, 2005

I tried several different ergonomic (split) keyboards. I settled on the MS Natural and it has made a huge difference for me. Microsoft also has a newer "comfort curve" keyboard which is not split, I have used it a bit but I much prefer the original MS Natural.
posted by monsta coty scott at 12:30 PM on December 16, 2005

You know, I didn't say that correctly.

I had minor RSI. Split keyboard made it go away -- an MS Natural at work, a Logitech at home.

Learning to type Dvorak has allowed me to type comfortably on a non-split keyboard, the Apple Pro. (Your fingers move around less on a Dvorak layout, and that seems to be what helps).
posted by teece at 12:32 PM on December 16, 2005

I second Dvorak; I don't use Dvorak any more, but it did help my RSI issues immensely. No new keyboard to buy; there's just a significant learning curve.
posted by Jeanne at 12:33 PM on December 16, 2005

Best answer: For me, Dvorak and a Kenesis Ergo has helped quite a bit. I also cut down on my quantity of typing, and do my brainstorming/rough drafts longhand.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 12:36 PM on December 16, 2005

I never had real issues, but the Microsoft Natural keyboard definitely made my hands feel better. Warning: It takes a minimum of two weeks to get used to for some folks, during which time you will swear at it daily.
posted by GaelFC at 12:40 PM on December 16, 2005

Second the Kenesis and add in the Smart Glove. Huge difference.
posted by hindmost at 12:41 PM on December 16, 2005

Best answer: My boss has one of these Safe Type vertical keyboards. She managed to adjust to it in about a week and now she swears by it. The disadvantages are that it won't work with any normal keyboard tray and it will piss off anyone who has to use the computer casually. Plus, it makes you look like a loon.
posted by MarkAnd at 12:43 PM on December 16, 2005

I prefer the MS natural. I've got three of them, two at work and one at home.

Wrist pads don't seem to help me. A big part of RSI is the inflammation of the nerves.

That's only part of it though. Your workstation needs to be adjusted properly, so that things are close to at lap level and the postures are natural.
posted by SpecialK at 12:43 PM on December 16, 2005

Best answer: You should look at the Kinesis Ergo Contoured Keyboard. They're pretty pricey, but they helped my wrist pain more than anything else I've tried.

They're kind of the opposite of the Microsoft keyboard... they bend DOWN instead of being raised UP. It's like someone took an ice cream scoop to a keyboard, kind of. :) Each individual key is at a different height and angle.

It takes a little retraining, because things aren't quite where your fingers are expecting. It took me a couple of weeks to get comfortable.. I was very slow at first, although I was back up to acceptable speed within a couple of days. The hardest things are probably backspace and delete under the left thumb (which makes a lot of sense, because you use those keys a great deal while editing, and the thumb is very strong), and enter being under the right thumb. I type more accurately on the Kinesis than on a regular keyboard, because I can much more clearly feel it when I make a mistake.

I can switch back and forth between the Kinesis and a regular keyboard without any problem. It won't mess her up for typing on other people's computers.

If she really wants to retrain, you can get Qwerty/Dvorak switchables... but learning Dvorak is pretty involved, much harder than just learning a new keyboard layout.
posted by Malor at 12:44 PM on December 16, 2005

I have horrible RSI. I switched to a split keyboard and it has worked well. I would recomend she try that before trying to learn how to type on a Dvorak keyboard.
posted by chunking express at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2005

I know someone helped by a MS Natural keyboard. The key is to keep the wrist straight. Wrist pads, braces and proper keyboard position all help. Attend to the mouse as well, such as with a wrist pad or perhaps get a trackball (I always hated those).
posted by caddis at 12:45 PM on December 16, 2005

Response by poster: Man you guys are great. 15 min, bunch of great repsonese. Keep it up!
posted by filmgeek at 12:47 PM on December 16, 2005

I find that using the mouse causes the most trouble/pain. Google for keyboard shortcuts. I have a favorite Windows keyboard shortcuts document I can send you from work, if you want. snow day today! w00t!
posted by theora55 at 12:48 PM on December 16, 2005

I, too, have pain in my wrist from the mouse -- it's the mouse button clicking, in particular, that hurts and causes me swelling. I minimize this by usually mousing with my non-dominant hand and/or using a trackpad.
posted by LordSludge at 1:01 PM on December 16, 2005

I have a Goldtouch split keyboard at the office and it seems to help a decent amount, though I've never had severe problems to begin with. Things I like about the Goldtouch:
- height and angle of the split are adjustable
- no number pad, so there's (slightly ) less movement when moving my right hand from the keyboard to my mouse
- some navigation keys (home, end, pgup, pgdn) are on the left, which took some getting used to, but which I now prefer

My sense is that ergo keyboards are tough to judge without really trying them out. I believe there are places that will rent them (aka "try before you buy") -- might be worth looking into.
posted by skyboy at 1:02 PM on December 16, 2005

Switching back to a mouse from a trackball (got the wireless comfort curve kb, will not play nice with wired trackball) has damn near crippled me. I haven't had this much pain in my wrists and elbows since I gave up flat keyboards 5 years ago.

I think I'm going back to my wired Microsoft Natural and optical trackball.
posted by Lyn Never at 1:08 PM on December 16, 2005

I get RSI from time to time and a split keyboard usually helps.

Microsoft has a new "natural ergonomic keyboard 4000" that I switched to recently - although I haven't had problems with RSI lately so I can't speak for that, it's the most comfortable split keyboard I've used. It has a nice curve to it as well as the split, and a good wrist rest.

Be warned, like some of the other ergo keyboards, it takes a bit of getting used to - the curved keys are a bit odd, and the keys are odd sizes - big "T" key, tiny "Y", huge "N", tiny "M". This confused my fingers for a few days but now it feels very natural and comfortable.
posted by mmoncur at 1:14 PM on December 16, 2005

Best answer: I now use a Kinesis at work. I liked it so much, I'm getting one for home too, despite its priciness.

The Cornell ergonomics group has a great web site, including a page on alternative keyboard designs. The unassociated alternative keyboard gallery is also useful.
posted by grouse at 1:39 PM on December 16, 2005

A wrist brace and a great deal less mousing helped me. Then a Microsoft Natural keyboard helped even more.
posted by fidelity at 1:51 PM on December 16, 2005

I have horrible RSI when I type, except when I use my FingerWorks TouchStream. I and many people I know swear by them. Several of my friends say the TouchStream is the only reason they still work in the field...

Unfortunately, FingerWorks was aquired, and whatever keyboards are still available are going for big bucks.
posted by rajbot at 1:57 PM on December 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

like everyone else says: split keyboard (ms natural, but I've never tried any others), wrist brace, gel wrist rest. I think every keyboard is USB these days. I've tried halfheartedly a few times to learn Dvorak but it's never seemed worth the effort yet - if you do a lot of writing most of the time, the learning curve is too steep to toss in and expect to keep up the pace.
posted by advil at 2:35 PM on December 16, 2005

The SmartBoard has a killer feature I can no longer go without: the keys are laid out in wedges so that you don't have the big reach from f->b and j->y that every other keyboard features.

Ditto the recommendation of Dvorak: less reaching all around. The transition was tough, but it was worth it. (Though it made typing 'f' -> 'b', above, a little confusing.) And it's fun to watch people try to use your keyboard and fear they've had a stroke.

Also, tell her to get a big fat trackball -- mice, and the interfaces that require them, were the inventions of the Committee to Promote the Development of RSIs.

(And, as I always stress in these discussions, new equipment is never enough. She's got to learn to take regular breaks to get up, move around, and stretch, for one.)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 2:58 PM on December 16, 2005

... new equipment is never enough. She's got to learn to take regular breaks to get up, move around, and stretch, for one.

Very important point.
posted by caddis at 3:02 PM on December 16, 2005

Best answer: My sympathies to your friend. I'm yet another Kinesis fan; it made the difference for me between being able to type and not being able to type. The two big improvements over a normal keyboard or a generic split keyboard is that your hands are separated and your thumbs do more work.

If you have a PC, the one you want is the Advantage USB. The Pro isn't worth the extra expense. Warn your friend it takes about a week, a very frustrating week, to fully get up to speed with the new keyboard. But once you're over that you can switch back and forth with normal keyboards with no trouble.

I know you specified keyboard advice, but your friend should know a keyboard alone isn't going to solve the problem. Proper posture, a good chair, and regular breaks and stretching also will help a lot.
posted by Nelson at 3:12 PM on December 16, 2005

Wrist pads do not help.

Splints do not help -- in fact, I think they make it worse by making people think they make up for bad ergonomics.

What works is frequent breaks, and stretching.

I used the standard Microsoft Naturals split keyboard, and it was an improvement over a regular rectangular keyboard, but it was not a miracle cure.

The mouse you use is also important -- you want as ergonomic a mouse as possible, with the most comfortable left button click you can get.

Also, consider switching to a trackball, since they've always been more comfortable, to me anyway.
posted by Hildago at 3:34 PM on December 16, 2005

What works can be a personal thing. The cheap Logitech trackball helps me a lot. Supporting my arms all the way to the elbows also helps a lot. I think I recall reading somewhere that you want to minimize the amount by which your joints are angled away from their natural resting positions. The problem with conventional keyboards is thought to be that they force your wrists to angle outwards to align your digits with the keyboard. Which explains why the ergo keyboards are effective.
posted by thayerg at 3:53 PM on December 16, 2005

Response by poster: While I thank the good intentions of MeFI, the medical advice is already followed. Just looking for good keyboard recommendations. Thanks again guys.
posted by filmgeek at 5:11 PM on December 16, 2005

While not suffering from RSI, my dad is a horrible at typing and instead uses Dragon Naturally Speaking. It has both standard speech-to-text capabilities, as well as being able to be used for everyday computer manipulation (IM, surfing the internet, etc). When I've tried it, I've been very impressed, but found it surprisingly difficult to talk so much.
posted by chefscotticus at 6:08 PM on December 16, 2005

Instead of Dvorak, take a look at the Colemak keyboard layout (self-link). It's more ergonomic than Dvorak and it's significantly easier to learn.
posted by Sharcho at 6:22 PM on December 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

I've always wanted a Datahand keyboard.

But I find that an IBM Model M keyboard works quite well. FWIW, I have arthritis, and it is the only keyboard I can afford that doesn't hurt to type on.
posted by bh at 7:25 PM on December 16, 2005

I'll echo suggestions on optical trackballs. I find that when I switch to a mouse, it hurts a lot.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:30 PM on December 16, 2005

Best answer: I love my kinesis. My wife said "Ick" when I liked the one at work so much I bought another for home. Within a week she asked me, "Where do I get a keyboard like we have for my work?"

Interestingly, my typing speed about doubled with kinesis and my accuracy improved. I never could touch-type without peeking previously.
posted by cairnish at 8:12 PM on December 16, 2005

The single most important factor is height of the keyboard. Many people have it too high.

That said, the microsoft natural keyboard. I can't type without it. Or, more precisely, I can't type pain-free without it.
posted by callmejay at 9:58 PM on December 16, 2005

Best answer: Nth the Kinesis.
In the first couple of weeks one thinks "How could I get used to this weird-ass thing?" but stick it out because they have a 60-day guarantee. (That said, I once heard that it's a pain to get them to honor it.)
posted by Aknaton at 9:51 AM on December 17, 2005

bh writes "But I find that an IBM Model M keyboard works quite well. "

Going against the grain along with bh here. My hands are in agony from any membrane type keyboard within 15 minitues, buckling spring is the way to go. IBM spent millions developing the Model M back when it was the selectric keyboard. You'll need an adapter ps2 -> usb. I've had no problem with a Belkin adapter on both the older version and the newer version.

Plus it's cheap to try, $5 for the keyboard out of the discount bin + $30 for the adapter.
posted by Mitheral at 5:06 PM on December 17, 2005

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