The best way to support the forearms during typing

By gildalit


ergonomic consultation

Have you suffered pains in the shoulder girdle and the lower back while working on a computer? Chances are that these pains are due to a lack of support for your forearms during typing.

Ergonomics experts differ in regard to this issue and their approaches fall into several categories.

The purpose of this post is to present the advantages and disadvantages of the various approaches in an objective way, and let each one of you decide which approach is most suitable for him or her.

1. Floating – the “pianist” approach – The palms float over the keyboard: This approach argues that there’s no need to support the forearms, as the shoulders should be relaxed and simulate piano playing. The keyboard is located in the front part of the table and the mouse is in line with the keyboard.

Advantages – There’s no need to put the forearms on the chair’s armrests, on the table or on a padded surface. The relaxation is a product of gravitation and it enables the joints to be free of load.

Disadvantages – A) The keyboard has to be situated in a very low location, otherwise the shoulders cannot relax. B) The relaxed shoulders posture requires very high awareness. C) A low keyboard creates a disturbance to the legs.

2. Using the table to support the forearms – This approach recommends putting the forearms on the table, while locating the keyboard on the back part of the table and the mouse in line with the keyboard.

Advantages – A) When the user puts his or her forearms on a wide surface, his or her shoulders girdles are fully supported and a neutral posture of the palms becomes natural. B) Users can adjust themselves to this method simply and easily. C) The method is particularly suitable for corner tables and / or tables with an ergonomic niche.

Disadvantages – A) Laying the forearms on narrow tables (less than 60cm in depth) is impossible. B) A sharp table rim might strongly disturb the ability to properly lay the forearms on the table. C) In straight tables, laying the forearms forces the user to extend the forearms further, an extension which creates a certain load on the shoulders girdles. D. In order to lay the forearms on the table, the user must sit in the right height, to ensure the shoulders are relaxed. The user will also have to move with the chair closer to the table, which sometimes results in the armrests bumping into the table. E. Laying the forearms on a hard surface generates a feeling of discomfort and sometime results in an inflammation in the elbow area.

3. Supporting the forearms on the chair’s armrests – In this method, the forearms are laid over the chair’s armrests, the keyboard is located near the table rim and the mouse is in line with the keyboard.

Advantages – A) Correct anatomical posture of the shoulders. B) The method is suitable for straight tables with narrow depth.

Disadvantages – A) In case the chair’s armrests are not suitable to the width of the shoulders, it is impossible to implement this method during typing. B) In case the armrests are narrow, not adjustable and not padded, this method cannot be implemented.

4. Laying the forearms on a padded surface which connects to the table – In this method, the forearms are laid on a padded surface with an ergonomic niche which is located on the table. The keyboard is located in the front part of the table and the mouse is in line with the keyboard.

Advantages – A) Laying the forearms on a padded surface is pleasant and neutralizes pressure points. B) The round shape of the surface leads to a relaxed and optimal posture of the shoulders. C) The padded surface creates a unified and correct sitting standard. D) The size of the surface enables every user to find the typing position which is most suitable for his or her body and shoulders width. E) There is no need to move with the chair under the table, and have the armrests bump into the table. F) This method is very suitable for people with a big belly or pregnant women. G) The method is very suitable for typing tasks. H) Very suitable for narrow tables. I) The method enables users to upgrade non-ergonomic environments. J) The board can be delivered from one table to another in an easy way.

Disadvantages – A) The method forces the user to sit in a high position in order to create a relaxed shoulders posture (which sometimes requires the use of a foot rest). B) The surface on the table might disturb PC users who use folders and paper documents on a frequent basis.

To summarize:

Deciding on the desired approach depends on the work surface, the type of work, the type of the ergonomic accessories in the work environment and the computer user’s physical characteristics.

Nevertheless, every approach requires a correct choice in each one of the following aspects: the location of the keyboard and the mouse, the height of the sitting position, the selection of the ergonomic accessories for the workstation and the guidance of an ergonomic consultant.

In practice, work places do not allow computer users to decide on the suitable approach, due to two main reasons: A) Lack of ergonomic awareness and guidance. B) Standard equipment which has been selected in a random way, without any ergonomic planning.

My hope is that at least home PC users will know how to implement the right choice and that decision makers in organizations will consult an ergonomic advisor when they plan the work environment.

Combining ergonomic planning with the right guidance and equipment will not only save the organization unnecessary expenses on unsuitable equipment. The organization will eventually benefit from a satisfied worker, who is more productive and is less susceptible to orthopedic injuries.

An organization which will be prudent enough to integrate ergonomic aspects into its considerations will sharply reduce instances of workers’ absence as a result of orthopedic injuries, such as lower back pains, neck sprains, and inflammations in the palms. The overall economic calculation will drive the organization to understand the very short time frame in which the initial cost of ergonomics returns itself and the fact that in the long run, ergonomics saves significant amount of money for the organization and strengthens its image in the eyes of employees and customers alike.

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Pathan Krakauer
February 9th, 2010

Hello, “gildalit,”
Since you offered the “pianist” approach” as possibly beneficial, I’d like to convince you to list it as explicitely harmful. And here’s why:
[1] “The palms float over the keyboard: … there’s no need to support the forearms, as the shoulders should be relaxed…”
The shoulders aren’t relaxed here – they can’t be, as they (what else?) need to carry the weight of the upper extremities when they hang/are being kept floating (against the gravity) over the keyboard.
This is exactly why piano-players’ shoulders get affected in piano-playing.
[2] “The relaxed shoulders posture requires very high awareness.”
I am sorry, but no level of awareness can defy the gravity or the demands it makes on the body.
[3] “The relaxation is a product of gravitation and it enables the joints to be free of load.”
First, this sentence acknowledges what was mieesd above: the weight of the arms – hanging, suspended from the shoulders. Anyway, this is why there’s no relaxation in the shoulders. But your words also seem to suggest that the finger-joints could be free from the effects of this gravity – whereas they aren’t, in either approach known to piano-playing. One of them wants the fingers to take on the full weight (gravity) of the freely, heavily-hanging arm; the other wants the fingers to be pressed down from the shoulder, via a stiffened forearm-wrist-palm unit. Both these approaches put pressures on the fingers – which they are not prepared to deal with *safely* (and that’s one of the reasons of why the nerves in the pianists’ fingers and the wrists are the first to be affected).
9 out of each 10 piano hopefuls are affected by playing-related neuromuscular disorders (2009 research).
Please, warn against following this approach – don’t advocate it.

February 9th, 2010

Hi Pathan ,

Thank you for your professional comment and insights.
I must start in saying that we absolutely agree with every word you wrote.
As ergonomic consultants we don’t recommend the Piano approach nor do we think there is any advantage in it.
Over the years we met many people that were orthopedic damaged as a result of using this method
In the post we tried to lay out a variety of opinions and review them in the most objective way.
We came to the conclusion that forearm support is vital to healthy computing, and recently finished to developed the ergocloud an innovative forearm support board, we would be grateful to get your professional opinion on it, you can see it in:

Pathan Krakauer
February 10th, 2010

Well, what can I say…
I am just a piano teacher, and I assumed that I spoke to an ergonomist – who is supposed to know more than me on the ways the body works, and such exchanges usually bring me quite indifferent responses…. So, thanks.
What’s worse, I have not seen any attempts at questioning or revising these staples of piano pedagogy which you listed in your article by my fellow teachers, and I have been looking into these matters for 15 years now. Without the will there’s no way out of the long-lasting predicament our disicipline has been in and no hope for yet another generation of students…
Speaking of the need for arm-support: piano-players can’t use one, but can do very well without it – provided all their motorics were organized (actually, pre-organized) quite differently from the way they have been in the monopolistic, traditional paradigm. I would like to let you know that such teaching exists (I had encountered it personally, hence my somewhat unique perspective on motoric matters), but most of the piano world doesn’t know about it, yet. And that fact shows how low the motoric awareness among piano teachers has been.
Please, help me change it. Warn against “pianist’s approach”. Thanks!

ronen kalai
March 21st, 2010

Finding the perfect solution for any specific motor task in any specific social- work environment would seem to be an almost impossible task. Therefore it could be suggested that devices, methods or systems are only as good as the results they produce. Knowledge is generally accepted as a pre- requisite for informed decision making and when it comed to the prevention, reduction or termination of subjective muscular stress, ergonomic knowledge and body movement wisdom are essential if any device is going to be truly beneficial and achieve the deired result.

March 22nd, 2010

Dear Ronen,
It is true that no solution is universal and that each task and individual has their own needs.
But still after years of ergonomic field work I believe a good forearm support is the basic and almost universal solution for most fine motor tasks including computer keying and mousing.

gry planszowe
April 10th, 2010

Nice template , what is the name of tamplate you used in your site

April 12th, 2010

Thanks, I don’t really remember the name and I also made some adjustments to the colors.
What did you think about the themes of the blog?

zaklady bukmacherskie
May 29th, 2010

Great info, thanks for useful post. I’m waiting for more

May 31st, 2010

Thanks please let me know if there are any more ergonomic themes you would like to read about.

skull tattoo designs
June 13th, 2010

Your site theme looks cool. What template did you use ?

August 3rd, 2010

Thanks, I really don’t remember what template I used, but wordpress has lots of great ones,

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