People who spend their days typing might notice some stiffness or tingling in their wrists. These are early warning signs of carpal tunnel—the great boogeyman of all who work at a computer. And while wrist rests can reduce your chance of wrist injury, are they really as helpful as people say?
Wrist Rests Are Helpful, Sort of
What causes carpal tunnel syndrome? According to the NIH, it’s usually the result of long-term wrist injury. The tissues in your wrists slowly swell up after years of neglect, getting so irritated that they press your median nerve, causing pain and tingling.
But carpal tunnel isn’t caused by typing. The wrist injuries that you get at a desk come from years of pressure, strain, and reduced blood flow. Put your fingers in a typing position and just look where your wrists fall. They’re pressing against your desk, right? The same thing happens when you use your mouse. And, if you slouch like me, you might notice that all of your upper body weight is going straight into your wrists. That’s no good!
A wrist rest is an obvious solution to this problem. It cushions your wrists and helps to reduce strain. According to the CCOHS (the Canadian OSHA), wrist rests lower your risk of developing a wrist injury. Great, so that’s that!
Hold on. Wrist rests are just cushions for your wrists. They don’t solve the problems that lead to injuries like carpal tunnel. You’re still bending your wrists and pushing them into a table. A wrist rest might reduce your chance of injury, but it isn’t a be-all-end-all solution. So, what now?
Ideally, Your Wrists Should Float Above the Desk
“Resting” your wrists while typing or using a mouse, in the long term, raises your risk for carpal tunnel or other wrist injuries. A wrist rest might reduce the strain that you put on your wrists, but it won’t fully protect you from long-term wrist injury.
So, how do you type without hurting your wrists? Ergonomics experts and OSHA agree that you should keep your wrists in a neutral position while typing or using a mouse. They shouldn’t bend at all—in fact, your wrists should “float” above the desk and stay even with your palms and forearm.
I know, it sounds like a massive pain in the neck. But according to CCOHS, “floating” your wrists can actually reduce neck, back, and shoulder strain. Proper typing posture forces you to sit up straight and helps protect your entire body from long-term injury, not just your wrists.
If you have trouble finding a comfortable position, try adjusting your chair and plant your feet flat on the floor. Chairs with adjustable elbow rests can also support your arms while typing. And of course, frequent breaks can help you maintain good posture throughout your workday.
Should You Buy Wrist Rests?
Some people have a natural gift for posture. Others, like you and me, have to work for it. Sitting up straight isn’t always easy, and typing with “floating” wrists is even more difficult. So, until you’re an icon of posture, I suggest using a wrist rest.
Again, a wrist rest won’t completely save you from carpal tunnel or other wrist injuries. But a plush piece of gel is a lot easier on your wrists than the edge of a desk. If you’re at the computer a lot, then a cheap set of keyboard and mouse rests can help you reduce wrist strain when posture goes by the wayside. An ergonomic keyboard and mouse may be a worthwhile investment, too, as they can force you to use better posture at your desk.
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An inexpensive set of wrist rests will help alleviate some of the strain that you put on your wrists when you forget about posture.