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Are wrist rests a good idea?

Wrist rests have become a popular computer accessory for people who spend hours typing at a keyboard. The idea behind wrist rests is that they provide support for your wrists while typing, which could help prevent pain and injury. But there are conflicting opinions on whether wrist rests are truly beneficial or not. Here we’ll go over the key considerations to help you decide if using a wrist rest is right for your needs.

What are wrist rests?

Wrist rests, also called palm rests, are pads that sit in front of your keyboard. They provide a cushion for your wrists to rest on while typing. Wrist rests come in a few different styles:

  • Plastic or gel – These are molded wrist rests made from materials like plastic, gel, foam, or memory foam. They conform to your wrists.
  • Bean bag – These are cloth wrist rests filled with bean bag beads that you can mold into shape.
  • Wood – Wooden wrist rests offer a hard surface and don’t conform like gel or bean bag styles.

Wrist rests are available in various sizes, from small rests meant just for your wrists to full pads that run the entire length of your keyboard. They also come in different heights, with thicker rests providing more pronounced support.

The theory behind wrist rests

By providing a supportive surface to rest your wrists on while typing, wrist rests aim to ease the pressure on your wrists. Here’s a look at some of the intended benefits of wrist rests:

  • Prevent wrist extension – Wrist rests allow you to keep your wrists neutrally aligned as you type. This prevents hyperextending your wrists while reaching for keys.
  • Reduce tension – Resting your wrists can help relieve muscle tension from prolonged typing.
  • Improve posture – Wrist rests encourage keeping your wrists floating above the keyboard in an ergonomic posture instead of resting your wrists on the desk.
  • Absorb impact – The cushion of a wrist rest absorbs some of the impact as your wrists hit the surface while typing.

For people who deal with wrist soreness or conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist rests seem like an easy solution. But not everyone agrees on how beneficial wrist rests really are.

The pros of wrist rests

Here are some of the main advantages that advocates point to when recommending the use of wrist rests:

  • Prevent injury – Keeping your wrists properly aligned and supported could help ward off repetitive strain injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Reduce strain – Letting your wrists rest between typing may ease muscle strain.
  • Comfort – Wrist rests feel comfortable and provide padding for your wrists.
  • Reminder of posture – Using a wrist rest trains you to hover your hands over the keys instead of resting your wrists on the desk.

For people dealing with wrist pain or concerned about developing problems, wrist rests seem like an easy fix to improve typing posture. When your wrists get tired, being able to rest them on a cushy pad feels like a relief. This leads many people to view wrist rests as an essential ergonomic accessory for computer work.

The cons of wrist rests

But the benefits of wrist rests are still debated. Here are some of the potential downsides to using wrist rests:

  • Force poor hand position – Using a wrist rest could encourage an incorrectly bent wrist and poor typing form.
  • Restrict movement – Resting your wrists on a pad reduces your range of motion while typing.
  • Cause pressure – The edge of a wrist rest puts pressure on the nerve passageways in your wrists.
  • False sense of security – Wrist rests don’t eliminate injury risk and could give a false impression of typing safely.

While wrist rests seem like they should help, not everyone agrees that they live up to their claims. Limiting wrist movement and contact pressure from the edge of the pad could potentially do more harm than good in some cases.

What do experts say about wrist rests?

There are conflicting opinions among health experts about wrist rest effectiveness. Here’s a look at what some experts have to say:

For wrist rests

  • The Mayo Clinic recommends using wrist rests to help keep wrists in a straight position while typing and reduce strain.
  • Cornell University Ergonomics Web describes wrist rests as an important intervention to allow the wrist to maintain a straight neutral posture during keying and mousing tasks.
  • Cleveland Clinic advises using padded wrist rests to help support your wrists during computer work.

Against wrist rests

  • OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) advises against using wrist rests because they can cause increased pressure on the underside of the wrist.
  • Washington State Department of Labor & Industries recommends typing with your wrists floating above the keyboard, not resting on pads.
  • Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety does not recommend wrist rests because resting on them can strain tendons.

As you can see, there are good points on both sides of the debate. Some experts view wrist rests as an ergonomic aid for computer work, while others believe they do more harm than good. Proper typing posture is key regardless of whether you use a wrist rest or not.

Ideal typing hand position

Whether you use wrist rests or not, maintaining proper hand position is vital for injury prevention. Here are tips for ideal hand positioning while typing:

  • Keep your wrists straight and neutrally aligned, not bent up or down.
  • Hover your hands over the keyboard, don’t rest your wrists or forearms on the desk.
  • Avoid hyperextending your wrists to reach for distant keys.
  • Make sure your keyboard and monitor are at an ergonomic height where you can maintain good posture.
  • Use a light touch on the keys and keep your shoulders relaxed.

Proper typing form puts less strain on your wrists than resting your wrists while typing. Position your chair at the right height and angle your keyboard to allow a straight wrist position.

Tips for using wrist rests

If you do choose to use a wrist rest, here are some tips to use them safely and effectively:

  • Choose a padded, contoured rest that supports wrist neutrality.
  • Only use the rest between bouts of typing, not continuously.
  • Avoid resting the sensitive carpal tunnel area of your wrist on the edge of the rest.
  • Minimize contact pressure by selecting a soft, cushiony wrist rest.
  • Pick a wrist rest wide enough to fit your keyboard so your whole wrist is supported.
  • Maintain proper upright posture instead of slouching forward onto the wrist rest.

Wrist rests are meant to provide occasional support between typing, not to rest your wrists on continuously. Allow your wrists to float while typing.

Alternative ergonomic options

If you’re concerned about wrist strain but don’t want to use a traditional wrist rest, consider these options:

  • Ergonomic keyboard – A split keyboard places your hands in a more natural position to reduce strain on your wrists and forearms.
  • Vertical mouse – Unlike a horizontal mouse, a vertical mouse keeps your hand in a handshake position to avoid wrist twisting.
  • Forearm rest – Unlike a small wrist rest, a full forearm rest allows you to rest your entire forearm while keeping wrists floating.
  • palm keyboard – This compact keyboard works via a glide pad that you control with finger movements instead of the wrist actions of typing.

Adjusting your workstation setup is also key. Ensure your chair, desk, monitor, keyboard, and mouse are at ergonomically sound heights and positions. This helps maintain neutral postures as you work.

The bottom line on wrist rests

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the wrist rest debate. While some find wrist rests beneficial, others argue they do more harm than good. No strong research definitively proves that wrist rests prevent injury.

The best approach is maintaining proper hand, wrist, arm, shoulder and sitting posture whether you use a wrist rest or not. Take frequent breaks from typing and vary your tasks throughout the day. And listen to your body – if a wrist rest causes you discomfort or aggravates your symptoms, don’t use it.

Wrist rests should be viewed as an optional ergonomic accessory, not a must-have item or complete solution to injury prevention. For some people they may provide comfort and support, while others find they create problems. Instead of relying on a wrist rest to “fix” your posture issues, focus on adjusting your workstation setup and typing techniques to keep your wrists in the ideal neutral posture.

Pros Cons
  • Provide wrist support
  • Encourage neutral postures
  • Relieve tension
  • Comfortable padding
  • Can force poor wrist position
  • May restrict movement
  • Can cause contact pressure
  • Don’t prevent all injury

Key takeaways

  • Wrist rests aim to support neutral wrist postures while typing.
  • However, experts disagree on whether they are truly helpful or harmful.
  • Maintaining proper hand, arm and sitting ergonomics is key with or without a wrist rest.
  • Wrist rests are optional – listen to your body and don’t use them if they cause discomfort.
  • Split keyboards, vertical mice and forearm rests are ergonomic alternatives to wrist rests.