Chris Telden loves being creative. He maintains a number of health blogs.
Typing With My Arms at My Sides - Now I Can Work
I recently switched to an adjustable computer setup when I literally couldn't work anymore. Pain in my back, arms, neck, and feet meant that I had no single safe typing position. I tried standing, sitting...heck, I tried lying down. Every time I stuck my arms out in front of me to type, they hurt. After considering many arrangements, including treadmill desks and standing podiums, my husband finally suggested and installed this solution in which I can have my arms at my sides to type. Now I can work...and I don't know if I can ever go back.
Solution: Keyboard Mounts, Monitor Mounts, Special Keyboards
My arrangement includes two adjustable keyboard mounts with extension arms, an adjustable monitor mount, and two full-size keyboards with touchpads that we simply taped to the mounts to prevent their slipping off. I use two keyboards instead of one because of neck and shoulder pain.
You are probably wondering why I didn't go with split keyboards, those divided-in-half units that you can use more ergonomically by setting them apart. I will explain about why I didn't go with them in a minute.
Before I go into the specifics of how we did my new setup, I should state that I'm a full-time self-employed writer. I type many hours every day. I have chronic shoulder pain, minor carpal tunnel syndrome and a back condition involving neural foraminal stenosis and spondylolytic spondylolisthesis that affects both my upper and lower spine.
What this means is that sitting, standing, or walking too much can be disabling. What's worse, putting my arms in front of me to type is always painful. Because I had so many issues, the solution we came up with was pricey but ultimately worth it, as almost everything is adjustable. So it enables me to work daily, not just on days of low pain, with my arms by my sides, whether I need to sit or stand. Without it, I simply couldn't type.
Keyboard Mounts Flex for Sitting or Standing
For my modular setup, I used industrial strength, commercial adjustable keyboard mounts that you mount on your wall—the same ones used in healthcare facilities and offices—made by Ergotron.
The secret is that I use two of them. They are mounted on the wall in front of me about 2 1/2 feet apart, about a foot off the floor (I'm short, about 5' tall). One supports my left-hand keyboard, one supports my right-hand keyboard. With these mounts, I'm able to sit down. At a moment's notice, I can raise the mounts with an easy flick of my hand and work standing up.
Yes, it is weird to type with my hands at my sides instead of in front. Instead of one keyboard in front of me, I now have one on each side. It was an adjustment to learn how to type with my hands on two keyboards simultaneously. But it didn't take too long for my brain to adjust and my fine motor control to learn new habits, even given that I'm over 50 and set in my typing habits. As the saying goes...needs must.
The Good and the Bad of the Keyboard Mounts
What I like is that the keyboard mounts go up and down at a specific range wide enough to accommodate both my sitting and standing postures. If you try this system, you'll of course want to modify the height at which you mount it for your own sitting/standing heights.
The mounts themselves also tilt and this is awesome in a way I never expected. They adjust slightly in angle downward, where the "top" end farthest from me angles down. This allows my wrist to straighten as I type when my arms are resting low, which helps my carpal tunnel pain. It puts less strain on the injured nerves and muscles.
You're probably wondering where the mouse fits in here. To accommodate a mouse, there is a small slide-out panel on each mount. It can also be used to set down lightweight objects like paper or a bag of potato chips. It is not meant to bear the weight of, say, a bowl of soup.
Thus, on one of my mounts, I have an extra rollerball mouse—we taped it down firmly. You can't use a conventional sliding mouse with these keyboards as it will fall off. Instead, you'll need to decide which kind of stationary mouse works for you. There are a number of types, my favorite being rollerball and touchpad.
I like how the mounts are good quality and designed well. They are heavy, yet they move very fluidly, don't require a lot of force, and so are not painful for me to operate, which was a pleasant surprise; I have difficulty with heavy things. I have not found them to be squeaky at the hinges or noisy in any way, and I appreciate the silence. What I don't love so much about them is that sometimes they can get a bit too loose in their position and be nudged down or up too easily while they're in use. A little tweaking by my husband has helped mitigate that.
Obviously, they aren't plug 'n play, so to speak. They need to be installed. You'll need to be handy with screws and measurements, or hire a handyperson to install them on the wall. I hired my husband.
My Monitor Mount
We went with the same company's monitor mounts for my 27" monitor, Ergotron. I like it a lot—you can tilt the monitor slightly and it easily slides up or down for sitting or standing and isn't painful for me to adjust. I'm impressed by the design given how heavy my flat desktop monitor is. I'll bring up this caveat in case it's not obvious. My monitor was designed to have the option to be wall-mounted; I don't know if that's true of all monitors these days.
So far the only negative is it's so easy to adjust, it sometimes jars when it reaches the end of the range, and I worry that the impact might be bad for the monitor.
New Keyboards and Mouse
I intended to use split keyboards. They are keyboards that are in two parts, a left half and right half. Such devices do exist and are sometimes used for gaming. Freestyle and Kinesis are two popular brands. But I couldn't because:
- None of the models split apart wide enough for me to have my hands at my sides instead of in front of me.
- The widest split ones still had cords attaching them which made switching from standing to sitting impossible.
- They were also compact and I needed full size keys.
So I decided to go with using two full-size keyboards. And yes, my computer easily recognizes both of them and allows me to use both or just one just fine in tandem.
But I also needed touchpads, as now I needed a mouse that would not slide off the mounts. I wanted to be able to control the mouse from my left or right hand. I thought, hey, as long as I'm going for comfort and modularity, why not go all the way? And we wanted wireless so I wouldn't strangle myself on the wires. So we decided on getting two Logitech K400 Plus keyboards with the touchpads built in.
- It's frankly not the ideal keyboard, but it's cheap and does the job. It retains most of its functionality with our Linux system. Caps Lock and Shift and Ctrl work for typing on both sides.
- However, I can't use the Home and End buttons anymore.
- It's slightly too small for my hands, but not as small as laptop keyboards, thankfully.
The keyboards and mouse aren't perfect. It's a compromise solution until something better comes along. I don't have a problem accepting this level of compromise here, as the alternative was to not be able to work.
Retraining My Hands at My Age
I will say adjusting to using two keyboards takes practice. Before we got the mounts, I practiced for a couple of weeks on two keyboards in front of me to see if I could do it. It's a bit like learning to type again, yet not as hard as trying to adjust from kwerty keyboards to dvorak. This is more a mental switch where your spatial memory has to reset and your hands need to realize they're working together on fine motor work even if they're by your sides.
Typing Ergonomics Poll
The other final note that is unusual about this arrangement is that it is a desk-free one. It is designed for computer use, not paper use. I literally am not working at a desk. This is quite a mental shift for me after spending so many years using desks. I have my hands down by my sides, resting comfortably at the level I want whether I am standing or sitting.
This also means I need to have a small table nearby to hold my coffee and snacks as well as any other materials. You might be able to see it in some of the photos. My work station never looks the same two days in a row, and sometimes I need to be creative about where to put things, but I frankly love the modularity. This system is flexible beyond anything I ever imagined having at home.
Allows Multiple Users
One unexpected side benefit of this arrangement is that my child and my husband are now both able to use my workstation comfortably. They just shift the keyboards and monitors up or down.
I do many other things to ease my pain, including trigger point massage, using TENS, and applying heat and ice. I wrote about them elsewhere. This change, though, has been such a huge lifesaver, allowing me to work around disabling pain. I hope I never have to return to typing with my hands in front of me. It's side-typing all the way now!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Chris Telden