If you are typing for an extended amount of time a day, as most developers are, one of the best things you can do is invest in a more ergonomic keyboard.
If you have the means, make this purchase as soon as you can. Any extra stress on your hands, shoulders, or back, can end up being very painful, and can sneak up on you over night! Trust me. You might feel fine using your laptop's built in keyboard today, but wake up hurting tomorrow.
The pain I experienced was mainly in my back and chest so I picked keyboards to address those issues, but ergonomic keyboards also help with a range of typing related pain like wrist and hand pain. I tried a few different keyboards in my quest to hurt less.
Here they are ranked from best to worst:
The Kinesis Advantage 2 QD
This is my current keyboard. If you switch to this keyboard, expect some ramp up time. It certainly takes time to get used to, but I feel like my hands are in a better position and end up feeling less stressed at the end of the day. I have also found that my shoulders end up in a more open relaxed position, my chest is more open, and I don't feel the same strain in my mid and upper back that I felt before I switched.
The keys are arranged in a sculpted out indentation which allows your hands to be in a more natural position, but I did find it took me a few typos before my hands knew where specific keys were instinctively. It's a very large keyboard, and I have very small hands, so it is a bit of a stretch to get to the number keys and the arrow keys. This might not be a problem for most people with regular size hands.
The keyboard has some strange quirks out of the box... by default it chirps every time you hit a key! But you can turn this off. You can customize it in many other ways including removing and remapping keys. My keycaps feature both qwerty and Dvorak labels, so I have been trying out Dvorak.
The keys do not require being fully depressed in order to register being pressed, which allows you to use less force to type and makes typing slightly faster. I don't know if I would recommend this keyboard to anyone who works in a space close by someone else... usage is a bit loud. It doesn't bother me when I use it but I could see the sound of the keys annoying someone else if they were in the room with me.
This is the most expensive keyboard I have ever used, but it is worth it if you can swing it!
Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic
This keyboard was recommended to me by a colleague, and it was my first keyboard love. I really like the upward curve that helps my hands live in a more natural position. I remember feeling instantly more comfortable the first time I tried it.
The keys are not too loud. They do take a bit of force to be depressed, but the depression is a satisfying engaged feeling when the key is fully pressed. The escape key and the rest of the function keys have a weird feeling depression action, but I remapped my keys on my mac so I didn't use them very much.
Unfortunately, eventually I found I was feeling pain from having my shoulders and chest a little more closed in than they naturally wanted to be due to where the keyboard dictated my hands would be. This may not be a problem for some people, but as I'm probably smaller than average width wise in my chest I imagine a lot of people might experience this problem.
This is the only keyboard I have used for an extended time that was battery powered. I had to replace the batteries a couple of times, and I am suspicious that the keyboard would use battery when it wasn't in use. It was annoying but not frequent enough to be a deal breaker.
It's also the only cordless keyboard I have ever used. It uses a bluetooth usb piece instead of a usb cable to connect. If I was switching work stations a lot it would be easy to forget the tiny piece that plugs in.
Kinesis Freestyle 2 for Mac
This is my least favorite keyboard ever. I had high hopes when I saw the photos online, but I did not enjoy using it at all.
In fairness, I used it after I had been using the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard so my hands really did not want to type on a flat keyboard again.
I thought the split was going to help with my mid back pain because it would let me have more control over how far apart my hands are, but it ended up being worse because I found the separate keyboards would move if I put any lateral push on them. I ended up having them slide out of place a lot.
The one thing I liked about this keyboard was that the keys were very soft to press. The actual press felt nice, but it wasn't worth the other discomforts. I stopped using this keyboard after less than a week.
Don't be Fooled by Your Laptop Keyboard!
Even though I know it puts my shoulders in a terrible forward hunch and makes me hold my arms out in front of me, I still used my laptop keyboard for way longer than I should have because of convenience. The best thing you can do for yourself for your own typing longevity is stay away from using your laptop keyboard for long typing sessions. You will thank yourself for your self control later!
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