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The Importance of Using the Right Tool

The Importance of Using the Right Tool

"Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe." 
– attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Using the right tool can have a huge impact on your health and productivity. The right tool can allow you to accomplish far more using less effort. Abe Lincoln would have learned that lesson well, clearing farmland. Imagine how much less effort it would have taken to cut down a tree with a sharp axe!  While you probably don't spend your days cutting down trees, using the right tool is just as important. The wrong office setup can result in a whole host of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI), and sore shoulders, forearms or wrists are just the beginning.

Avoiding Repetitive Stress Injuries

"Ergonomics" comes from two Greek words: "ergo," meaning "work," and "nomos," meaning "law" or "rule." This makes sense: your body was designed to move and work in a certain way - and when you violate those laws, there are physical consequences. For information workers who spend their days at a computer, such injuries are frequently barely detectable in their early stages: tingling fingers, sore backs or shoulders - things easy to overlook or "just deal with" until the cumulative effects of these tiny injuries get so bad they actually prevent you from working. Because the field of ergonomics seeks to avoid or limit these Repetitive Strain Injuries, "ergonomics" is frequently defined as "fitting the task to the worker."

One way to significantly reduce your chances of an RSI is by using the right keyboard for your body type. The problem is, of course, that there are so many different keyboards available! Most are pretty standard and look like this one, while others - in order to better match the work to the worker - have some pretty odd shapes

We'd like debunk a common myth. Typically, split keyboards (keyboards which have the alphanumeric keys split into two halves, with each side slightly angled) are labeled "ergonomic" and declared superior to the more traditional straight keyboards. If your wrists hurt or your fingers tingle, the solution is to buy an "ergonomic" (meaning "split") keyboard. But is it that simple?

Straight or Split Keyboard: Which is Best for You?

The simple answer is, of course, "No, it's not that simple." Split keyboards aren't always better - or even more ergonomic - than straight keyboards. To determine which style of keyboard is best suited to you, perform this simple test: with your arms resting at your sides, extend your Wrists straighthands, and place them on the home row of a straight keyboard. Are your wrists relatively straight, or are they angled?

The goal is to keep your wrists straight; working with them bent significantly increases your risk of developing Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and other RSI's. With this in mind, straight keyboards usually work best for users who are somewhat narrow through the shoulders. For those with this body type, typing on the angled keys of a split keyboard causes them to hold their elbows out away from their sides in order to keep their wrists straight. Such a posture significantly increases the strain on their neck and shoulder muscles, leading to soreness and can cause a number of other problems, if continued over time.Wrists bent

If you're looking to upgrade your keyboard to better fit your body type, take a look at a few of the boards below. Remember, there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution - the "best keyboard" is the one that's the best for you.

Straight Keyboards

Mini Keyboard with ALPS Key Switches - A study conducted at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory found that users of keyboards with "springier" keys (Tactile Switches) were less likely to suffer symptoms of repetitive strain injury. This straight keyboard packages high-end key-switches in a space-saving package.

Avant Prime and Avant Stellar Keyboards- If you long for the days when keyboards weren't an afterthought, you will welcome the quality touch and feel of the Avant line of keyboards. These fully-reprogrammable and remappable keyboards were built to last, with ALPS tactile key switches. The Avant Stellar adds 12 programmable keys to automate tasks such as cut-and-paste, making it perfect for graphic designers, editors or others whose daily jobs require commands using multiple key combinations.


Split Keyboards:

The Northgate Ergonomic Evolution Keyboard - utilizing ALPS key switches and a split configuration, plus an integrated touchpad, this keyboard combines many of the ergonomic "best practices" in a single, built-to-last package.

GoldTouch Variable Split Keyboard this "variable split" keyboard allows you to truly make your keyboard fit your body type. If you know you need a split keyboard, this is one of the most customizable boards available.

Maxim Adjustable Split Keyboard like the GoldTouch, the Maxim allows for vertical adjustment as well as horizontal, offering a new level of comfort for information workers.