Why is wrist rest important?

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. A proper rest aligns the wrists and forearms so that they are kept in a neutral position and let you move well when you are typing.

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. Typing for long periods puts your body under a lot of strain, which is why it's so important for you to adequately support your wrist and prevent them form leaning heavily on the sharp edges of a desk.

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.

What it's important to note is that wrist rests, like any piece of equipment, will only work if used correctly.

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?

Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause pain, numbness and tingling in the thumb, index finger, middle finger and the side of the ring fingers. It's caused when a nerve gets trapped in the part of the wrist called the carpal tunnel, and this pinching is what causes the issues. It can also result in arm pain and trouble gripping things, which is why it's such a major concern. Some cases even need surgery in order to relieve it. The Mayo Clinic has an easy to understand writeup on carpal tunnel syndrome - worth a read.

What is Repetitive Strain Injury?

This is different to carpal tunnel syndrome in that it isn't directly related to one nerve but is a general term for pain and numbness caused by the repetition of the same task. The pain can be felt not only in the nerves, but in the muscles and tendons as well. It's generally due to bad workplace ergonomics, and if left untreated, the pain can become constant, even when you're no longer repeating the same task. Healthline has more details on Repetitive Strain Injury.

Why would wrist rests be harmful?

Wrist rests are thought to be harmful sometimes for users due to pressing your wrist, and the delicate tendons in it, onto the hard surface of the rest. While using a wrist rest is generally a solution to leaning your wrists on the sharp edges of a desk or computer, the pressure from a rest can compresses these tendons and can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. This is particularly apparent if the user is involved in a high repetition task, or typing for a significant amount of their time.

Wrist rests can also be bad because they can raise your wrist either too much, or too little. Having your arms in a neutral position is the healthiest way to type. If you are too dependent on a wrist rest as a cure all, this can cause you to develop pain, instead of prevent it.

What is the correct way to use a wrist rest?

Ultimately, it's not just about having a wrist rest that is best for you, it's about the set-up of your whole workstation. Wrist rests can't help you if you are sitting on a bad chair, hunched over. A wrist rest needs to be used as part of an ergonomically set-up workstation. Here's what that should look like:

Chair

A good chair should support all parts of your body. You should be comfortable, and never forced into an awkward sitting situation when completing any task. To set up your chair correctly:

  • 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.

Monitor

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.

When actively typing and using your wrist rest, the pad should be in contact with the heel of your hand, and so should be softly rounded to provide comfort.

If you are using a standing desk, you may want to check both "How Tall Should A Standing Desk Be?" and "How to stand at a standing desk?" - these help you get the ergonomics right.

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.

Material

The back of your palms should rest on the keyboard rest, so it should be slightly rounded to enable this effect. What you are looking for is the Goldilocks of wrist rests. Not so hard that it is compressing your tendons, and not so soft that your wrists end up out of the neutral position when you type. There are a couple of main types of materials available in wrist rests and both have their advantages.

Memory foam

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.At times the rest can be much too tall for comfort when using a mouse and this will in turn bend your wrist in an unnatural way.

For all the details and history of memory foams check wikipedia - and you'll learn that it was in fact invented by the NASA!

Gel-Filled

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.

Height

Always remember, you need to keep your wrists in a neutral line. So if the wrist rest is too tall or too small, you're going to give yourself more problems. The general rule is that a keyboard wrist rest should be the same height as your keyboard in order to achieve this. For those using ultra-thin laptops or keyboards, this can be a problem, and if you are going to use a wrist rest, you will need to raise your keyboard by placing it on something.

Grip

A feature that it's important for all wrist rests is to have a bit of stickiness to their underside. This ensures that the rest stays in place when you are typing or mousing so that you can receive the best support. This is particularly necessary for gamers, as if their mouse pad and wrist rest moves unexpectedly it can affect the quick movements needed for PC gaming.

Covering

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.

Mouse Rests

When it comes to mouse rests, a rest that has a dip in the middle can provide great relief on the wrist. This is because it supports the wrist at the sides instead of the center, therefore avoiding pressing on any tendons. It also keeps your wrist from bending out of that all important neutral position.

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

You may think that it isn't possible, but actually it's fairly easy to clean your memory foam wrist rest. Which is great news because after some use, they can really pick up a stink. Just don't put them in the microwave to dry!

  • 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 Points

So 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.

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