The extra 6 inches on the right side of your keyboard, also known as a numeric keypad, was not engineered with ergonomics in mind. This may not seem like a big deal, but you may find that a compact keyboard can have a significant impact on how your work at your desk.
Here are 5 ways a compact keyboard can improve your ergonomic position.
Better for shoulders
When you’re typing it’s always best to keep your arms at your side or slightly abducted. If you’re typing and mousing, you’re constantly reaching for the mouse. This will increase shoulder motion and may result in disorders of cumulative trauma.
Moving the shoulder to this position isn’t problematic unless you’re constantly moving the shoulder a great distance. That’s why your elbows should be at 90º to your keyboard and close to your body.
If your entire arm is resting on the table, you can increase the pull of the nerves at your shoulder (brachial plexus). Overtime, this can cause numbness, pain, and discomfort.
Reduces cumulative trauma
Cumulative trauma is when a repetitive force or action happens over and over for days, months, weeks or years. This can be reduced by using a compact keyboard by minimizing friction, force, and strain on the elbow, wrist, and shoulder.
You may think that this minimal approach to ergonomics won’t make a difference, but think about the motion of using a keyboard and mouse. You’re not just moving your hand. You’re moving your entire upper extremity.
That includes the neck, elbow, wrist, shoulder, digits, and a huge branch of nerves known as the brachial plexus.
If you work in an office or on a computer, you’re likely to experience this from typing, mousing, reaching, bending, or flexing your neck while staring at the monitor.
This repetitive motion may result in shoulder, elbow, wrist or neck pain when repeated for hours everyday. It may also aggravate a preexisting condition.
Better for right handers
A standard keyboard is problematic because the keypad increases the distance for your right hand to travel to the mouse. If you think about it, a standard keyboard is meant for people who are left hand dominant.
A left handed person can have equal reaching distances with the numeric keypad on the right and mouse on the left. This decreases the travel from keyboard to mouse and reduces strain on the upper extremity.
For right handers, a compact keyboard removes the keypad altogether and decreases the distance from the keyboard to the keypad.
In my remote ergonomic assessment, I use a calculated scoring sheet that will actually give you a better score if you use a compact keyboard. Decreasing that short travel distance can actually make a difference in the long term.
Less clutter more space
Compact keyboards aren’t just ergonomically better, they’re also minimalistic in design and will save you valuable desk space. This is great for gamers, musicians, video editors, or anyone who values minimal clutter.
Having more space at your desk can also improve your ergonomic position because you can move those commonly used items closer to you, so you don’t have to reach. When you reduce reaching at your desk, you can reduce some of the office problems related to back, neck, or shoulder pain.
Better for gamers
Compact keyboards are also known to be better for gamers. The shorter hand to mouse distance can actually improve your speed, and give you an advantage over other players.
If you use the keyboard or arrow keys, you’ll also have a shorter keystroke improving you overall performance.
Which Compact keyboard is best
If you just want a basic keyboard, you cant go wrong with a logitech or apple keyboard, but I prefer the tactile feel of the older mechanical keyboards.
They’re a little louder, but each keystroke has a better feel.
7/6/22 update: I still like the keystone K2 but my new recommendation is the Microsoft sculpt. It’s compact, has a split keyboard design, and wireless numeric keypad.
Numeric keypad alternatives
I understand the convenience of the numeric keypad, and it was hard for me to finally give up my standard keyboard.
If you’re the type of person who needs a numeric keypad, get a separate keypad for your L hand.
I recommend using a Bluetooth keypad that can be charged. You can easily move it out of the way when you’re not doing office work, or keep it at your desk permanently.
If you’re left handed, this article doesn’t apply to you, but for everyone else a compact keyboard is the way to go. It’s mostly just going to decrease movement and reduce strain with the right upper extremity.
I hope this article was helpful. Definitely check out my other articles on ergonomics and be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.
David is the lead editor of OT Focus. He has been practicing as an Occupational Therapist since 2013. He specializes in acute care, hand therapy, and ergonomics.