Whether you're working at the office all day, or spending hours gaming every night, it's safe to say that our computers are an intrinsic part of our world. We spend so much time on them, that issues such as repetitive strain injury and carpal tunnel syndrome are well known problems associated with typing. Wrist rests have been touted as a great way to relieve pain, and prevent further injury.
A wrist rest is a support made of foam or gel, that sits underneath your keyboard or on your mouse pad, in order to support your wrists while you type or spend long hours working on a computer.
Yet there's conflicting information out there with regards to wrist rests for the keyboard and mouse. At times we are told so many different things that it's hard to separate fact from fiction. Are wrist rests good for us? Or do they cause more problems than solutions?
Let's take a look at the issue in a little more detail.
What are the benefits of using a wrist rest?
Reading that they can cause the problems that you are trying to avoid can make you think that it might be best to forego a wrist rest, but they do have a number of benefits.
Not only this, but a wrist rest can help your shoulders and neck as well. Using a wrist rest is a great way to reduce tension in your shoulders as you're no longer holding your arms up all the time. They also can alleviate pain if you already suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, or help to prevent it.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration has quick suggestions on wrist rest usage here (make sure you click on "Design and use").
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
What is Repetitive Strain Injury?
Why would wrist rests be harmful?
Wrist rests can also be bad because they can raise your wrist either too much, or too little.
What is the correct way to use a wrist rest?
- Push your hips as far back into the seat as you can.
- Height. Your feet should rest flat on the floor, with your knees equidistant apart. It's important that you use a footrest if you need one. This isn't an excuse to have you chair lower to the ground, as reaching up to your keyboard will cause wrist injury.
- Adjust the back rest and use support cushions if necessary so that both your upper and lower back is supported.
No one wants to be straining to see their monitor, or having to bend their neck at an awkward angle. It's important that it's placed in such a way that you are not straining yourself.
To position, sit back in you chair and fully extend one finger out in front of you. This is how close your monitor should be.
Height is similar, face straight ahead, then close and reopen your eyes naturally. The place where you are looking should be the top third of your screen.
- Don't tilt your monitors to an extreme angle, slightly downward will avoid all reflections.
Keyboard and Mouse
If your keyboard and mouse are in the correct position, then your wrists will be too, and you can receive all of the benefits from using a wrist rest.
They should be positioned so that your elbows are at your side, and your arms at an angle more than 90 degrees. For most people, the easiest way to do this is to use a pull out keyboard tray.
- Your wrists should stay straight and be in line with your forearms when you type. If they're not, you may need to adjust your chair or desk height. One thing you don't want is to be resting your wrists on the edge of the desk.
There are further points on the best way for a wrist rest to complement your workstation. The first is that you must be sure that you don't have a mouse that is too big or small for you. If it is too big, then your forearm won't rest properly, and if it is too small, then your hand will 'claw' and the tension in your fingers can lead to strain injury.
It may sound strange, but how you use your mouse is also very important. If you have two screens, or are gaming a lot, it is important that you try and decrease the amount of movements you are doing with the mouse. That is why it is so important to have a large mouse pad in these situations, to cut down on small repetitive wrist movements. You should also avoid sitting with your mouse hand tilted at the wrist towards your pinky finger, as this will cause strain sooner than you might think.
If you are going to buy a wrist rest, you need to make sure that it fits with the ergonomics of your workstation. Your hands should be able to move freely while typing and wrists should be kept in a neutral position at all times. This means your wrist should not be bend either way but should be flat and in line with your elbows.
How do I choose a wrist rest?
Choosing a wrist rest depends on a number of factors. Namely, what you are using your computer the most for, if you already have carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injury, and of course personal preference. There are however a few over all things that you should consider, both for keyboard and mouse rests.
The back of your palms should rest on the keyboard rest, so it should be slightly rounded to enable this effect.
Everyone knows what memory foam is, and it sure is popular to have on your mattress, but how does a wrist rest made from it fair? In fact, it works in a very similar way. It certainly provides support, keeping your wrists level in that neutral position that you need. At the same time, it moulds to the shape of your wrist, meaning that you are not putting too much pressure on them.
On the other hand (or wrist), some customers do find this type of rest to be too stiff, particularly those who have suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, and these people generally go for a slightly softer make. All memory foam brands differ, so there are ones of various stiffness available.
Another solution is a memory foam rest with a gel-filled cushion, that gives the support of memory foam, but the squishiness of gel. Another issue that you an find with memory foam is that they will eventually indent to the shape of your wrist without returning to their original shape, and so you lose that support. However, this is just general wear and tear on a product that you use everyday.
Something to watch out for with memory foam when using them as a mouse rest is their height.
For all the details and history of memory foams check wikipedia - and you'll learn that it was in fact invented by the NASA!
Just looking at a gel-filled wrist rest makes you think of comfort, and that's exactly what they are designed to give. Generally softer than memory foam, they are particularly good for resting your mouse hand and have a lovely squishy feeling without compressing your tendons. You can of course get harder ones, but as a general rule they are seen as softer than their foam counterparts.
A lot of gel-filled rests also give your wrists a sense of cooling, so that your wrists won’t be sweating. This can help to relieve any symptoms of strain you may already have. Some brands do have a tendency to burst however, which can leave quite a bit of mess behind so it's recommended that you be extra careful with these. They can also go too far on the spectrum and end up being too soft, so that your wrists depress in and you lose the neutral line.
You may think that the only material that matters is whether it's gel or memory foam, but the covering of the wrist rest is also very important to consider. Nylon coverings can cause a lot of static and are very warm, meaning that your wrists sweat and stick to the cover. The same goes for some of the plastic coverings on gel-filled rests. When a wrist rest is gel, you want to take advantage of it's cooling properties, not be feeling overheated. Some covers are also very prone to staining, and can start to look dirty very quickly.
Such a mouse rest is also great if you've had carpal tunnel surgery. It’s even better if you can find this feature in a gel wrist rest which is cool to the touch, as cooling tends to benefit the healing.
How to clean your wrist rest
When you have a wrist rest, you want it to last as long as possible, and part of this means taking good care of it and keeping it clean. With many of the gel filled rests, all these need is a quick wipe with a damp cloth. The same goes for a lot of the fabric covered rests as well.
Cleaning a memory foam wrist rest
- Rinse the wrist rest under hot water.
- Squeeze a couple of drops of dish soap onto it and rub in.
- Squeeze the wrist rest firmly so that it goes foamy.
- Rinse again under hot water, squeezing it the whole time until the water runs clear.
- Squeeze out excess water.
- Wrap in a towel and press down again to get rid of more water.
- Store in a warm dry place until completely dry.
While it does take quite a while to dry sometimes, it's definitely worth it when you've found a wrist rest that you love.
Key PointsSo there you have it, a guide to everything wrist rest related. Whether you suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome, or are just trying to protect yourself from fatigue, the right wrist rest can really help. Ultimately, it's your choice if you want to invest in one, however the benefits are clear, and so long as the rest of your workstation is ergonomically set up, a wrist rest would be a great addition. Some key points to remember:
- Always use your wrist rest as part of an ergonomic workstation.
- Make sure your keyboard rest is the same height as your keyboard.
- Not to hard and not too soft; a rest should keep your wrists and forearms in a neutral position.
Stop using your rest if your hands start hurting.