Modern day keying and typing: Using best practices of the past to improve posture and prevent injury

typing-technique-postureIn 1946 Stella Pajunas set the world typing record on an electric typewriter at 216 words per minute (wpm), and in 1959, Carole Bechen established the manual typewriter record at 176 wpm.  Although still fast, modern keyboards can’t match these early records where the fastest “modern keyboarder” is Gregory Arakelian who typed 158 wpm in 1991.  Writer Barbara Blackburn has maintained 150 wpm for 50 minutes.  Blistering typing speeds… yes, but even more impressive is that most typists were timed and set their records over a full 50-minute timed event!

Office professionals from the 1930s through the 1980s averaged 70 to 80 wpm; whereas today the average worker averages 33 wpm when using a standard keyboard; and 15 to 30 wpm while using a tablet or smartphone.

There are few injury statistics available from early times; however, anecdotal information allows us to interpret that most early office workers did not suffer the same proportion of wrist or upper extremity problems as reported today by modern workers.  This is in-line with a 2001 study by the Mayo Clinic where they found that heavy computer users (up to seven hours per day) had the same rate of wrist problems as the general population.  Additionally, if we were to compare injury rates to the industrial environment during the 1940s, injury incident rates were improved due to training, experience, and culture.

With what we know of the past, let’s explore what previous generations did to prevent upper extremity injuries:Typing-1920

  1. They sat up straight and practiced “good posture.  Family and societal “rules” dictated a very clear message, and it was clearly embedded and disciplined – sit up straight!”  “Typing” schools firmly instructed all students in the practice of sitting in an upright posture with shoulders back, eyes forward, and chin tucked in.
  2. Early typewriters had some built in key resistance – allowing a slight “rest” of the fingers on the “keyboard.” These built in “rest breaks” were part of the mechanics of typing.  Today, to compensate for today’s keyboards, we recommend a 1-2 minutes stretch break every hour.
  3. Strict adherence to proper elbow, neck, and angles.  Using early office early document holder - typwriter-1900equipment required fingers and hands in good position for strength for both typing and 10-key.
  4. Chair posture.  There were very few chair choices and most required an upright and posture-correct seated position.  Chairs today have numerous adjustments, including armrests.  Until the 1970s, armrests were not part of office professionals using typewriters.  Today, we recommend in most cases that people not use armrests.

A lot can be learned from those that came before us, including some excellent tips on staying ergohealthy!

To learn more:

Using Computer Doesn’t Increase Risk Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Study Finds

World Champion Typists and Typewriting World Records