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I've recently been trying to improve the ergonomics of my workspace, and as a part of that I'm looking into how I can improve the hardware I use. Do you use a standard keyboard, a shaped one, or a split one? Mouse or trackball? Are there any other accessories you can't live without?

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closed as off topic by ChrisF Feb 13 '12 at 8:36

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18 Answers

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Proper Form

Type like a pianist. Wrists up and on the balls of your fingers. Make deliberate key strokes.

Frequent Breaks

Get up, stretch, go for walks. This goes for any RSI (repetitive strain injury) prone joints.

Stress Balls

When you aren't typing make sure you do non-repetitive exercises with your hands. I've seen people use stress balls, play magnets, molding clay, even silly putty. The point is to keep from only performing the same action by breaking it up into chunks and doing non-repetitive actions in between.

Good Equipment

Don't use keyboards or mice that stress your hands or wrists. If you find yourself straining to reach keys or type throw it out. Try a different keyboard or variants on the same model. I know people who swear by split keyboards. I am fine with my Apple Wireless keyboard das Keyboard Ultimate. It's straight, simple, and well designed. Plus it is compact and allows me to move it wherever I want.

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When I'm spending extended period at the computer I've found the mouse to be the biggest problem. Keyboards only cause trouble when you're using them, but I've found it easy to spend ages surfing the web (trying to find the fact I'm after from StackOverflow, for instance), and while I'm reading my hand is still holding the mouse. In particular it's easy to leave a finger hovering over the mouse buttons or scroll wheel. Getting into the habit of taking my hand off the mouse when I don't need it has helped a great deal.

So I guess my point is you should think about what specific activities cause problems for you, and try to fix them by changing your habits or your equipment. Often the former is all that's required.

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this. I try to avoid the mouse whenever possible for this very reason. –  mpeterson Mar 27 '11 at 2:15
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Keyboard

Microsoft Natural ergonomic Keyboard 4000. The best there is. It's not split and it's not fully straight, it's the perfect balance imho. And it props at the front up to slant away from you instead of towards you, which gives a better wrist position. Make sure your desk and keyboard are the right height, which bring us to...

Chair

Get a good chair. They may seem expensive but cheaping out here, may incur a significant health cost in the long run that will make it seem insignificant. You may spend a significant amount of your adult life sitting in this, don't take it lightly. Chairs are rated by the hours per day they're designed to be sat in. For most techies I don't think an '8 hour' chair cuts it ;)

Foot Rest

Some people find a dedicated foot rest good, so that their feet are sloped at an angle resting on it. Personally, I didn't find this to feel any more comfortable to me, but maybe there are long term benefits.

Monitor

Make sure it's large enough that you can easily read text without having to lean forward and upset your posture. If not, you can either move it closer, change the resolution, or get a bigger monitor. Adjust the height so that the top of the monitor is around eye level. Keep the workspace area well lit to avoid eyestrain.

The following aren't physical workspace ergonmoics, but habits which are important:

Take regular breaks

Get up out of your chair and walk around for a minute at least once ever hour. Good for the body and mind.

Warm up

A Powerball is a good way to loosen up first thing in the morning, especially if the workspace is cold. For a warm up or a break during the day just spend a couple of minutes gradually building up a little speed and don't go too fast or hard.

Be efficient

  • Use the mouse as little as possible.
  • Use keyboard shortcuts.
  • learn to type correctly, using the correct fingers for the correct keys
  • Increase mouse sensitivity so you need to move it less to get around the screen(s).
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I used to suffer quite badly from sore wrists.

With a bit of research and experimentation I have landed on the following set up which has pretty much eliminated the sore wrists:

  • Evoluent Vertical Mouse. Ugly as all hell but great once you get used to it. Keeps the two bones in your forearm from being in a twisted position. Though I do need to have a 'normal' mouse as well for guests.
  • Logitech diNovo Keyboard with 10mm block under the front of the keyboard. This makes the keyboard tilt DOWN towards the back (opposite to way most keyboards tilt UP towards the back) allowing my hands to sit more inline with my forearms instead of tilting up.
  • Gel wrist pad thing for keyboard
  • Gel wrist pad thing for mouse

A few wrist stretches here and there don't go astray either.

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This: http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Natural-Ergo-Keyboard-4000/dp/B000A6PPOK/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1295553764&sr=8-3

Microsoft Comfort Curve Keyboard 4000! Whew. It's a split, with elevated wrist rests. That, combined with double mapping my Emacs Ctrl key to CapsLock has been just amazing. I also have a right handed mouse, which feels good, but I rarely use.

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Yup, I think that's a newer version of the one I have. Mine looks like it has a more pronounced bump in the middle. And it's PS/2, and doesn't have the fancy zoom thingy. –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jan 20 '11 at 20:12
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A couple of years ago when I was having wrist problems I started controlling the mouse with my left hand at work, while continuing to use my right hand at home. It took a couple of weeks to get used to but now I'm pretty much ambidextrous when it comes to the mouse and I haven't had a single problem with my wrists since.

Also I've always tried to use curved or natural keyboards, I strongly recommend them.

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I've been coding since the late 70's. I find that your chair & desktop positions are paramount. Since I am using 4 or more computers most days, I find that I must have the same keyboard on all of them or I spend too much time fixing my typos. The position of the keyboard & mouse should be the most "natural" from your location. When I deviate from this is when I begin to get problems. eg. Mouse too far from the keyboard and shoulder starts hurting.
I find that when I set my chair so that my hands lay naturally on the keyboard without any tension that I can code / type for considerably more than 8 hours a day.

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I found that wristrests put me in exactly the wrong position. I find them counterproductive.

What has worked best for me over the years is a keyboard at the correct height (most are too high onthe desk focing you into the wristdown figures up position) and one that is on a keyboard drawer that could tilt. If the back of the keyboard is lower than the front, you virtually cannot type in the wrong wrist position.

Also be very awre of the position you use when using the mouse. It is easier to be in the wrong position than the right one.

It is also good to have wrist braces available if you already have pain and to ice your wrists if they start to get sore (yes this will hurt!).

Take frequent breaks.

Look at how you sleep, I was bending my wrist in my sleep and wearing braces at night helped break that nasty habit.

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Mouse
I strongly recommend trying a trackball. The Logitech Marble Mouse is excellent for reducing RSI. If you have two computers, it's a good break to switch between the trackball on your main PC and the mouse on the auxiliary .

Keyboard
MS Natural Ergonomic 4000, as mentioned.

Good text editor
I recommend vim. It's an investment, start with vimtutor. You will be able to do everything via the keyboard and reduce keystrokes.

Other factors
Stop playing games. Games flair up my RSI really quickly. And no wonder; I need to clean the teflon points that hold the trackball every day or two after playing games, whereas I can go several months with normal usage. Which means something like two orders of magnitude more mouse movement.

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I prefer a split and curved keyboard. I have an older Microsoft one, I think they still make it but it looks different last time I saw one in a store. I find my shoulders are more comfortable typing with it. For a mouse, I actually prefer a trackball. I use a Kensington Expert Mouse trackball (the big back square with the huge ball in the middle). Very confortable to use and quite happy with it (it's also asymetrical so it's good for righties AND lefties). Also important is chair with adjustable arms, to get the resting height of my elbows just right (though I only rest them when I'm not typing/mousing).

One thing I'd like is a keyboard with the number pad on the Left to reduce the distance between the mouse and keyboard so my arm doesn't have to travel as far, some types of work have a lot of back and forth.

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I tried out a split keyboard a couple of years ago and it has now become a necessity. I didn't have pain before or now, but after getting used to it, I miss it when I am elsewhere.

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The client of my employer has made it mandatory to install WorkPace software. It shows your current work intensity, prompts you for breaks if you work too long and many more such things. Although a bit annoying at times, it is very useful for preventing stress-related injuries at work. You may want to have a look at it.

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I have an inherited predisposition to RSI (thanks, Mom :P), and I do the following to make things easier on my wrists and hands:

  • I switch back and fourth between an ergonomic keyboard (an ancient Belkin no longer made, I'm yet to find an adequate replacement) and an IBM Model M (its modern counterpart can be found here). I prefer a split keyboard design, but the buckling spring keys on the Model M (and modern Unicomp, which bought the IBM keyboard patent from Lexmark) are much easier on me than more common keyboards that use silicone or latex bubbles for resistance and springback. I wish there were a keyboard with both.

  • I use a plain old mouse. I took the road of reducing mousing, rather than trying to make my mousing more ergonomic. I tend toward CLI apps and even my GUI apps are heavily keybound.

  • I use a good office chair so I'm positioned properly relative to my desk. I plan to eventually go back to a drafting stool and tall, inclined desk set-up like I used to have. It was nice.

  • I no longer use ballpoint, rollerball, gel, or other pens at all. I minimize my pencil use. Fountain pens require essentially no pressure and much less tight grip to use, so they are easier on the hands and wrists by far. Also, unless you are buying $6k Pelikan Limited Editions or something, the TCO on a fountain pen is much lower than using gel pens or rollerballs. A year's worth of ink costs me about $7 (despite my penchant for exotic or limited-edition inks), and one decent mid-price fountain pen can last for decades.

  • I've also changed my handwriting: the forms of writing taught in most US schools today was designed not for writing by hand, but for the movable type printing press. I picked up Write Now to learn Getty-Dubay italic print and cursive italic on the advice of one of my fellow fountain pen enthusiasts, and was amazed at how much faster, more legible, and easier on the hands writing became. Ms. Getty and Ms. Dubay based their writing on how people wrote before movable type screwed us all up. ;)

EDIT: I almost forgot to add: When I have had bad RSI issues, huge amounts of B vitamins (esp. B6), can do wonders for healing it and keeping it away -- it saved my mother from carpal tunnel surgery. Seek professional advice for if/how you should use it, I am not a medical professional, etc. etc.

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I use normal laptop keyboards and normal mouse. The following tricks help a lot:

  1. Use both hands (like darri said above)

  2. Set the mouse speed to the fastest settings you can adapt to. At beginning, you may fell the mouse is just going out of control (that's what others said when they use my computer) but once you get used with it, you don't have to move your hands a lot. Be care of with this trick, if you cannot adapt to the setting (in a couple of days from my experience), it hurts more. I personally feel MouseWare (from Logitech) has an easier to adapt acceleration model that the default one built in windows.

  3. Use AutoHotKey to make common operation shortcuts.

EDIT:

I forgot to mention Launchy. It is also a good tool to feel you from mouse.

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A Microsoft ergo keyboard...and even more important, a laser mouse.

With inaccurately-tracking mice, I tend to grip the mouse harder to force it to go where I want. That causes pain as bad as from a non-ergo keyboard. I've found that laser mice are the most accurate.

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Mobo Chair Mount Ergo Keyboard and Mouse Tray. This has help me for both developing and playing games without pain. I had given up on games until I bought this.

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  • split keyboard (or an MS4000 as already mentioned) works wonders. Does take getting used to, don't throw it out after 5 minutes because it's frustrating. It WILL be for a few days.

  • pen tablet (Wacom Bamboo or similar) instead of a mouse is great as well. Use it whereever possible.

  • good chair. Can't be repeated enough. Sadly most companies do NOT invest in good office furniture, and certainly not in ergonomically correct furniture. IOW most chairs you'll encounter suck.

  • Same for the desk. Having both adjusted for your body size, shape, and posture is essential. Bad furniture can cause (or make worse) RSI, back problems, neck pain, and other debilitating illnesses. Problem is that most people don't stay with one employer for those to develop, so there's always someone else to blame.

  • monitor stand. And have it adjusted correctly so you have to look slightly down rather than up to look at the screen.

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