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Published: 12/28/2002

Correct use of keyboard can prevent injuries

Been pounding away at the computer keyboard?

It's more than a cliche.

U. S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) researchers in the 1990s realized that most people wham the computer keyboard with more force than necessary. A person's fingers, they suspected, must take a real beating, exerting hundreds of pounds of force daily.

OSHA's study results surprised the researchers. It found that a typist's fingers may exert 25 tons of force at the keyboard each day.

Incorrect keyboard use is one of the leading causes of computer-associated repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome. The condition involves numbness and pain in the hands.

These injuries usually involve damage to tendons, ligaments, and other structures in the hands, wrists, and arms. They result from overuse, doing the same movements - banging away at the keyboard, for instance - for long periods day after day.

Keyboard injuries can cause pain in the elbows, shoulders, or neck, areas that most people don't even associate with typing. They take years to develop. Once symptoms appear, you've often got them for life.

Prevention with proper keyboard use is the best approach.

Tips from OSHA and other sources:

  • Don't bang the keys when typing. Use a light touch, with the minimum amount of force needed to register the keystroke.

  • Remember “B” for belly button. Letter keys take up about three-fifths of the keyboard, with the numeric keypad and cursor keys occupying the rest. Center yourself on the letter part of the keyboard, with the “B “ key lined up with your belly button.

  • Keep your wrists in a “neutral “ or straight position, not bent up or down. Bending the wrists compresses structures inside and increases the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.

  • Stow the feet. Don't use the retractable “feet” found on the back of most keyboards. They make the keyboard tilt toward the body. The keyboard should actually tilt slightly away from the body to keep the wrists in a neutral position.

  • If you have a wrist rest, use it right. A wrist rest is a pad located below the space bar. It should be used to rest the heel of your palm, not the wrists. Use it only when resting, not when keyboarding.

  • Type with the arms. Don't bend the wrists side-to-side to reach the keys. Instead, move the entire arm.

  • Place the keyboard low. The ideal keyboard position is lower than most people think - just above lap level. That allows the elbows to hang comfortably at the side of the body. Get that position by using a keyboard tray or adjusting the height of your chair.

  • Keep the mouse close. The mouse should be positioned close to the keyboard or body, to avoid the need to reach repeatedly to use it.

    Finally, rest often. When fatigue sets in during typing, the wrists bend into an unhealthy position. Rest and stretch to relieve fatigue.



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