Number pads are a holdover from the era of massive desktop calculators. You might be better off without one — at least, one permanently fixed to your keyboard.
You’ve probably seen countless keyboards with integrated number pads, or there might be one on your keyboard right now. They provide a grid layout for quickly entering numbers, which helped make the transition from calculators to desktop computers less painful. Over the years, it has remained a fixture in PC keyboards, even as many people just use the number row.
Why Does My Wrist Hurt?
I’m not saying number pads are bad, or they shouldn’t exist, because they’re obviously useful to many people — especially anyone working in Excel, or playing PC games with custom bindings and macros. However, they do usually come with a trade-off: ergonomics.
There are a few easy ways to make yourself comfortable at a computer and reduce physical strain: sit up straight in a chair, don’t sit too close to the monitor, and keep your hands at or below your elbow level, and so on. As Mayo Clinic explains, “proper office ergonomics — including correct chair height, adequate equipment spacing and good desk posture — can help you and your joints stay comfortable at work.”
It’s also important to keep in mind how your arms are positioned. Ideally, they should be straight out in front of you, but full-size keyboards with number pads can make that much more difficult. If you use a mouse with your right hand, the home cluster and number pad eats into your available mouse space. That either means pushing the keyboard more to the left, or leaving your mouse far on the right side. Both options mean one or both of your arms will sit at a weird angle when using your computer, which can hurt after a while.
I’ve certainly noticed more fatigue when working with a full-size keyboard, and others here at How-To Geek have echoed similar problems. Even though I love the look and feel of my Unicomp Model M keyboard, it’s so massive that it pushes my mouse pad to nearly the end of my desk. I mostly stick to smaller keyboards, like the Logitech MX Keys Mini, which leaves plenty of room for my mouse. That might be less of a problem if I used a mouse with my left hand.
Many, Many Options
Thankfully, there is no shortage of options for ditching the number pad or moving it to a more ergonomic position. Many desktop keyboards retain a large layout but without the number pad, usually referred to as 80% size, “Tenkeyless,” or TKL. Not everyone needs the function row or home cluster, or even separated arrow keys, so even smaller designs are also common. I don’t do much number crunching, so I don’t miss the number pad too badly on my smaller MX Keys Mini.
You can also buy a dedicated number pad, which can be stowed away when not in use, or kept on the opposite side of the keyboard as your mouse. The Microsoft Number Pad is a basic option that connects over Bluetooth, so it can be used with desktops, laptops, and even tablets. There are other choices that use mechanical key switches.
The next time you look at upgrading your computer setup with a new keyboard, it’s worth thinking about how your arms are positioned and if your keyboard might be taking over too much of your desk. I already like smaller keyboards because they’re closer to a laptop-style layout, but they are also a big step up in comfort for me.