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Aside – Keyboards

Posted by Preston on 2009-04-25

As a high speed touch typist, I have more than a strong regard for good keyboards. As someone who has dealt with RSI for the last 10+ years, I have an even stronger regard for healthy keyboards.

First, I’ll say from the outset that it’s my non-professional opinion that if you’re suffering from RSI and using a “wavy” keyboard (as pioneered by Microsoft), you need to throw it out. There’s a very important reason for this. The wave style keyboard is designed for hands “at rest” – and when you’re typing, your hands are not at rest. Thus, while the wavy keyboards are supposedly ergonomic, I and many other long term RSI sufferers find they simply exacerbate symptoms.

Kinesis-Ergo Keyboard

For a good 8 years, up until 18 months ago, I used one style of keyboard whenever I was at a desk – the Kinesis-Ergo Contoured keyboard:

Kinesis Ergo Contoured Keyboard (Photo from Kinesis product page)

Kinesis-Ergo Contoured Keyboard (photo linked from Kinesis product page)

This has two very important features for RSI sufferers:

  • The halves of the keyboard are separated far enough to encourage your arms into a 90 degree posture at your sides rather than stretching out or in;
  • The concave nature of the keys means that your fingers, when you type, stretch outwards/down, which is an entirely natural movement.

Honestly, if it weren’t for the Kinesis keyboard I’d have had to find another industry to work in.

Apple’s new streamlined keyboards

When Apple’s new streamlined keyboards came out, I was still using my Kinesis-Ergo keyboard, and was entirely dismissive of these spartan designs. I was certain the pseudo-chiclet key design would just make for a bad typing experience. If you’ve not seen these, they look like this:

Apple aluminium/streamlined keyboard (photo from Apple product page)

Apple aluminium/streamlined keyboard (photo linked from Apple product page)

Several weeks after the keyboards came out I was wandering past an Apple reseller’s store and noticed they had the keyboards, so I went into the store to type on the keyboard to affirm my distrust of them.

Imagine my surprise when I found it was quite simply the best keyboard experience I’ve ever had. The killer feature in these keyboards is the miniscule travel associated with hitting each key. Honestly, the typing force required on one of these keyboards is tiny – the only way I can describe it is that if you know the required force difference between trying to type on a manual type writer and a standard keyboard, you have some appreciation of the force difference required between typing on a regular keyboard and these Apple keyboards. It’s not quite the same amount, but it’s still quite a large amount.

I now use the Apple streamlined keyboards exclusively when I’m at a desk. They’re that good.

Physical Treatment

Having been a daily rail commuter for work, I usually saw a chiropractor every 4 weeks (now it’s around every 6); for years now I’ve been getting hand/arm adjustments as well as the regular adjustments (it’s not something a chiropractor typically looks at unless you ask them) – this definitely helped as a periodic treatment.

However, about 3 years ago I was referred to a “neuromuscular massage therapist”, who worked wonders on my RSI. Through some extremely painful sessions, she worked at decalcification in the tissues in my arms, which enabled better blood flow and muscular strength, which literally wiped 8 years of RSI from me in two sessions. Two very painful, but very important sessions. I now go back every year or so for a refresher.

Final thoughts

Obviously different people have different experiences with RSI, but given how much I had to endure while looking for solutions, I wanted to post my experiences in the hopes that it helps others.

I’m not a doctor, or have any physical sciences background – I’m a backup consultant, so don’t think I’m giving medical recommendations, just explaining what happened to work for me.

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4 Responses to “Aside – Keyboards”

  1. I adopted the Kinesis keyboard over a decade ago, after several years of living with tedonitis. After I was thrilled to find that I could live pain-free, I reviewed it for TidBITS (http://db.tidbits.com/article/5168). I’ve used the Kinesis exclusively since, on my main computer at work, and I’m now on my third or fourth one.

    I’ve been suspicious of Apple’s flat-cap keyboards since they first showed up in the MacBook, and of course they’ve since spread to the MacBook Pro and their desktop keyboards. Hopefully, like you, I’ll find them to my liking.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  2. Preston said

    Hi Andrew,

    I hope you have a good experience with them. I certainly found they were orders of magnitude better than I had been expecting – in reality I think the key improvement (no pun intended) is the extremely small travel on each key; you can type so much more lightly on them.

    The type of RSI/tendonitis will also make an impact, I imagine. For instance, most people who suffer from RSI tend to have issues in the thumb + first 2.5 fingers. Mine was that less common kind where it’s the small finger and the half of the ring finger closest to the small finger that would experience near full on numbness, with overall RSI pain/travel going all the way from the wrists to the upper arms.

    I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts on the Apple keyboard once you try it out.

    Cheers,

    Preston.

  3. Johannes said

    Hi Preston.

    I consider my typing skills to be one of my monst valuable skill, another one being able to read fast. The computer revolution made it possible for me to function in a world dealing with text all the time, since I never got skilled using a pen. I think I really have a physical problem with using a pen.

    Therefor I’m very picki on keyboards but I gave up on the MS ergo keyboard. I’m going to try the apple keyboard the sonnest.

    Thank you for you blog, the fact that it’s NetWorker related is just a bonus for me ;-)

    Sincerely,
    Johannes

    • Preston said

      Hi Johannes,

      I hope you have as good experience with it as I’ve done. What’s been a funny experience for me is that I’ve talked to a lot of touch typists who, like myself, dismissed it as not being ergonomically sound or practical for a lot of typing … instead, everyone I know who gave in and tried one out has been astounded and made the switch.

      Cheers,

      Preston.

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