The wrist rest is probably the most widely used and misunderstood piece of ergonomic equipment available.
Placing a wrist rest in front of the keyboard has become synonymous with providing ergonomic adjustments to a work area.
- When an ergonomic assessment is required, the very first item that is often checked off on the ergonomic modification checklist is provision of the wrist rest.
- When clients tell me that they have made ergonomic changes to their computer desk, they often mean that they have purchased a wrist rest.
The Concept is Good, But .
My problem with the wrist rest is not with the concept. Wrist rests can play an important role in wrist positioning for those using a keyboard or mouse. The goal is to have a neutral wrist (the wrist being flat and straight, not bent forward or back or angled to either side). A neutral wrist angle reduces stress and friction on the structures at the wrist and can help reduce discomfort and fatigue with typing and mousing activities.
However, I do have two issues with the wrist rest. The first is in the name and the second is in the training (or lack of) for its use.
Purpose Guide and Glide
In spite of the misleading name, the wrist rest is not designed for resting the wrist while typing. The wrist rest should guide the wrist into a neutral position enabling the wrist to glide over the wrist rest while typing. The wrist should only actually touch down on the wrist rest during typing breaks. If the wrists are actually planted down on the wrist rest during typing, the small finger muscles are isolated causing awkward finger positioning and movements and creating muscular stress.
Proper Wrist Rest Use
When typing, the wrists should be in a neutral position. They should float over the wrist rest and hand placement for key reach should be initiated through the shoulder and elbow.
See Neutral Position Fingers, Wrist & Forearm
See Typing Style Repetitive Strain Injuries are NOT Just About the Keyboard
Similarly, a wrist rest in front of a mouse causes the mouse to be activated by swiveling the wrist. This can lead to repetitive strain injuries and tendinitis. As with the keyboard, mouse movement should be initiated through small shoulder and elbow movements while the wrist is held in the neutral position.
See Pain-Free Mousing
The Bottom Line
Those who are responsible for providing ergonomic modifications to work stations should be aware of the proper function and use of the wrist rest. They need to provide the appropriate training if they issue a wrist rest. Otherwise, those who do not know better will revert to the function of this poorly named ergonomic piece of equipment and rest their wrists while typing - potentially increasing their work injury risk.
Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.