Keyboard & Mouse Ergonomics: Definition & Concept

Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

When you work for long periods of time on your computer, this can put a strain on your body. Better designed peripherals can help reduce this strain. The field of ergonomics examines the interaction between humans and computers to improve the design of devices like keyboards and mice.

Injuries Related to Computer Use

Have you ever worked through the night on a computer to finish a class assignment or prepare something for work? After many hours on the computer your body starts to feel it, especially if you do a lot of typing. Strain on your eyes, pain in your back, tired fingers, perhaps some cramps in your arm. If this happens just once in a while, it probably won't bother you for long. But what if you work on the computer for many hours every single day? This can results in serious long-term injuries.

One of the common injuries associated with intensive computer use is repetitive strain injury (RSI). In short, repetitive strain injury describes a number of conditions which involve pain in the arm or hand caused by repetitive activity - such as typing on a keyboard or clicking with a mouse. One particularly serious type of injury that has been associated with intensive computer use is carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and burning sensations in the fingers. It is a serious condition which often takes a long time to heal. There is no conclusive scientific evidence proving that intensive computer use specifically leads to carpal tunnel syndrome, but there is general consensus that working long hours on a computer can have negative health effects.

Ergonomics

Ergonomics is a field of study that examines the interactions between humans and other elements of a system, typically related to the work place. When applied to the use of computers, ergonomics is concerned with things like your posture sitting at your desk, the height of your desk, the viewing distance to your monitor, the type of chair you use, and a number of other factors. In short, how does your body interact with the computer system? Ergonomics has contributed to the design of computer systems which are easier to use and put less strain on our bodies. We'll look at two types of devices in particular: keyboards and mice.

Ergonomic Keyboard

A typical keyboard consists of a rectangle with the keys placed in straight rows. This is somewhat unnatural because when you bring your hands together in front of you they are placed at an angle. Ergonomic keyboards are therefore typically designed in a V shape. This makes it possible to type at a slight angle, which is more natural. This reduces muscle strain and related problems.

Ergonomic keyboard with a V shape layout
ergonomic keyboard V-shaped

Some keyboards go a little further and completely split the keyboard into two halves, one for each hand. By design, very little hand and finger movement is needed to use the keys on this type of keyboard. It does take some getting used to if you have been using a regular keyboard.

Split design ergonomic keyboard
ergonomic keyboard split

Designers and manufacturers claim that ergonomic keyboards reduce injuries and the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. However, there is limited scientific evidence to back up these claims. It really comes down to individual preferences. If someone is experiencing strain in their arms and hands, they may try a different keyboard to see if it is more comfortable for them and reduces their muscle strain.

Ergonomic keyboards are typically a bit more expensive compared to regular ones, but if it gives you a little more comfort, the extra cost may be worth it.

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