A False Ergonomy

The End Of The Season

So, it’s clear that posture is important, and repetitive stress is good to avoid and so forth but people, listen up: “ergonomic” products come in exactly two varieties. They are:

  1. Very expensive, and
  2. Totally ineffectual

Whether it’s keyboards, mice, office furniture, whatever, this rule applies. Either you’re buying something flexible enough that you can customize it to your particular needs or you’re getting a piece of cheap plastic moulded for some hypothetical person who, guaranteed, isn’t you. The people at Kinesis make great products, and I’ve recommended the Evoluent side-grip mice to many of my colleagues, who report good things, but if you think you’re developing CTS know the following:

  • Read the Typing Injury FAQ,
  • Not all wrist pain is carpal tunnel,
  • Chiropractic is snake oil, and
  • Good posture and exercise do far more for you than a wrist pad or a “Natural Keyboard”.

If you’ve got pain in your wrists, or indeed anywhere, don’t ignore it. See a doctor and listen to their advice. But there’s lots of things you can do for yourself, too: get a better chair, work on your posture, use a keyboard timer and stand up to stretch when it goes off, increase your font sizes so you can read without hunching forward. And, seriously, don’t skimp on your gear. Good keyboards cost real money, but when you divide the cost of a really good keyboard by the number of hours you’ll be spending in front of it, they’re very worth it, and in dollars-per-hour-of-not-hurting terms, very nearly free.

But whatever you do, don’t self-diagnose your own repetitive-stress-carpal-tunnel affliction and then prescribe yourself some cheap piece of bent plastic as a remedy. It’s only going to make it worse, and on top of being a dumb idea it’s a horrible habit. I’ve seen what happens to people who’ve started down that road, and these days my rule of thumb is that whenever you see one of those faux-ergonomic keyboards on someone’s desk, you’re virtually guaranteed to be dealing with a hypochondriac.

3 Comments

  1. Posted August 15, 2008 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    Hey, Mike. My favourite and very adjustable office chair can be had from Staples for around $200 CAD (or less if you catch them on sale). It’s the Manager Mesh one and comes with adjustable arms (vertical) (link to Staples item follows http://www.staples.ca/ENG/Catalog/cat_sku.asp?CatIds=&webid=468669&affixedcode=WW)

    Might not fit everyone, which *is* the case with ergonomic gear, but might be a good solution for a lot of folks.

    I’ve used the Zero Tension Mouse for a while when my spine was acting up. It’s great, but needs a lot of desktop real estate. Still, great for recovering and letting inflamed tissues rest. (It’s also ugly as sin, but can’t have everything)

    Currently, I’m investigating the use of a tablet appliance in an effort to reduce wear, tear and pain that manipulating a mouse incurs for me at the moment. Holding a pen-like device is less of a problem than any of my other pointing devices today.

    If the tablet works sufficiently, I may even be able to return to work – woot! Maybe.

  2. Tony
    Posted August 22, 2008 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    What do you think of this – the 1st ergonomic keyboard, I guess:

    http://www.squidoo.com/clipboards

  3. mhoye
    Posted August 23, 2008 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Ergonomic _clipboard_?

    I think that there are suckers with money in the world, I guess.