Keyboard Trays: Unnecessary Accessory or Ergonomic Wonder?

Keyboard Trays: Unnecessary Accessory or Ergonomic Wonder? on

What file cabinets from the 1940’s have to do with your computer keyboard.

Are you doing the “computer hunch”? 1. Arms bent. 2. Forearms resting on the edge of your desk. 3. Hands tilted downward to reach the keys. Bingo. Ouch. You’re doing bad things to your arms and hands. If you keep it up, there’s repetitive stress injuries or carpal tunnel syndrome in your future. What’s the solution? Type in natural position. What’s natural? It’s not complicated, but there are a few things you need to get right.

Keyboard trays are vital to your good health. They are not an office accessory created by opportunists to part you with your hard-earned money. The ergonomic benefit of a keyboard tray is a straightforward return on your investment. Here’s why.

Once upon a time

Fasten your seatbelt. We’re going back to the 1940’s. That’s about the time when the height for the desk at which you are sitting right now was determined as a standard. Measure if you want, but you’ll likely discover that the surface of your desk is 29.5 inches off the ground.

Why that particular height?

It accommodated a 3-drawer filing cabinet to slide underneath. Office furniture manufacturers adopted it as the norm.

Fast-forward to today for an unfortunate and unhealthy dose of reality. Few of us have or use 3-drawer file cabinets that fit under our desks. But here’s something even more contradictory. The 29.5” standard never matched the correct height for a person sitting at it to start with.

A desk with a surface of 29.5” would only be comfortable for a person who’s 6’4” or taller. It didn’t work for the majority of people back in the 1940’s, and it works for less than 2% of office workers today. Unless you’re at least 6’4”, your desk is messing with your posture when you type.

You’ll lean forward as you type. You’ll put pressure on your forearms. You’ll extend your wrists to reach the top of the keyboard. There’s nothing a chair can do to correct your posture. It’s not your back or legs. It’s your eyes and hands that are out of alignment.

Before you run out and buy a keyboard tray…

Yes, a keyboard tray helps reduce the unnatural angle of hands and arms that contribute to injury. But not all keyboard trays provide a solution. Many desks manufactured today are equipped with keyboard trays. They slide in and out like a drawer. There’s nothing adjustable about that. Other desk keyboard trays have complicated adjustment dials and springs underneath the tray. They might be helpful to your hands and arms, but they get in the way of your legs.

The perfect keyboard tray doesn’t force you to make a sacrifice or trade-off. Let the buyer beware: some “ergonomic” keyboards aren’t even ergonomic at all. Here’s what to look for:

  • Adjustability that’s within reach. You’re not accomplishing much if you have to crawl under your desk to change the settings of your keyboard tray. Look for intuitive adjustability features.
  • 90 degrees for comfort. Once you find a comfortable level for your chair, adjust the keyboard tray so there’s more than a 90-degree opening for your elbows.
  • Negative tilt. This is going to go against everything you’ve experienced. Search for keyboard trays that tilt the front of the keyboard downward. You want to adjust the back of the keyboard (the edge facing you) to a declined position. That means it should have a negative tilt. It flies in the face of most keyboard designs. They often have extending legs or tabs that let you raise the front of the keyboard. It’s the one thing you do not want. The correct ergonomic tilt for a keyboard is for the front to angle down, and the back (facing you) to angle up.

Sit back and relax

Your keyboard tray has a specific goal. Once you’ve made the proper adjustments, it should allow you to sit comfortably with your weight pushing against the backrest of the chair. Your hands should be able to assume a position as if they’re resting in your lap. If you feel this, you’ve made a good selection.

Effective keyboard trays that make the correct ergonomic adjustments for your hands can be an expensive investment. It’s easy to spend up to $500. Shop and compare. You can find effective economy models for about $80.

Your budget will determine the price you pay. Don’t skimp if you can help it. Every penny you invest in a good keyboard will reward you with protection from injuries.