Revolutionary Maltron keyboard helps prevent Repetitive Strain Injury

What is RSI?

Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) (also known as repetitive stress injury, occupational overuse syndrome and regional musculoskeletal disorder) is an injury of the musculoskeletal and nervous system caused by prolonged repetitive hand movements or sustained or awkward positions, such as those involved in computer, mouse and keyboard use. 

Symptoms of RSI include:

  • intermittent shooting pains or burning in the hands, wrists, back, shoulders, forearms and/or back
  • tremors or numbness in parts of the body
  • fatigue
  • weakness and difficulty sustaining even simple activities such as lifting a bag of groceries
  • chronically cold hands
  • symptoms are diffuse, crossing the distribution of nerves and tendons
  • the pain is worse with activity.


RSI is a common and potentially disabling illness.  Australia-wide statistics are no longer routinely kept following the epidemic of RSI experienced by Australia in the 1980’s and the subsequent debate about the condition in the medical community (see Quintner, 1995 for an overview). However, there are some valid indicators of the likely incidence:

  • In 2002 the Victorian WorkCover Chief Executive reported that  soft tissue and muscle injuries – or ‘sprains and strains’ – accounted for 62% of all WorkCover claims
  • A 1997 report by Comcare stated that 80% of sales people, 81% of clerks, 86% of professionals and 78% of managers reported mild or severe symptoms of RSI
  • RSI is not restricted to Australia; in 2001/02 approximately 1.1 million people in Great Britain suffered from musculoskeletal injuries caused or made worse by work.

While symptoms can reduce with long periods of rest, when this is not possible over time they can develop into a disabling condition; and this can happen with little warning.  Stress, including pressure to work harder and longer or take fewer breaks can make symptoms much more severe and long term.  Once RSI is established it is difficult to cure and can prevent all kinds of daily activities such as gardening and other hobbies.

However, RSI is both preventable and curable in its early stages.  Acting early before it takes hold is the key!

Ergonomics – the key to prevention and treatment

To understand RSI it is important to understand workplace ergonomics.  Ergonomics refers to the body’s response to physical and physiological workloads.  RSI results from ergonomically incorrect workplace designs and tasks which result in awkward, unnatural body positions and repetitive movements.

Placement of tools commonly used in the workplace is a key consideration in ergonomic design and in preventing RSI.  In an age where the majority of Australian workers spend long periods of time typing, one of the main considerations is the computer keyboard.


In most workplaces the standard keyboard is the QWERTY layout Sholes-designed keyboard.  This keyboard was invented in the age of typewriters where the design required that the user avoided fast typing speeds.  The design promotes this both by the esoteric location of keys and the unnatural hand placement required to reach them.

In the electronic era this keyboard layout is no longer appropriate.  It has been shown that maintaining the standard keyboard when computer use is prevalent and increasing comes at a cost: both in terms of the ill-health suffered by individuals using this ergonomically ill-designed keyboard and the ‘bottleneck’ in keyboard input and the training required to use it.

Research indicates that keying continuously on a standard QWERTY keyboard can result in flexion, extension, abduction and deviation in joints of the fingers, wrists and shoulders, as these joints are forced into unnatural positions and muscles are strained sustaining the posture required for typing.

The revolutionary Maltron keyboard

The Maltron keyboard overcomes these difficulties.  Designed by the internationally recognised electronics expert Stephen Hobday, in conjunction with Lillian Malt who conceived the original idea of an ergonomically designed keyboard, the Maltron keyboard allows users to choose to use the standard QWERTY layout or the revolutionary Malt layout and to switch between the two as required.  The Malt layout:

  • Has key heights varied to fit the lengths of fingers
  • Has tilted keytops to reduce finger stretching
  • Is separated in the centre to eliminate wrist, arm and shoulder deviations
  • Balances the load between the two hands–making some allowance for right hand dominance
  • Balances the load between the fingers–allowing for individual finger capacity
  • Reduces finger movements to a minimum–by placing the most commonly used letters directly under the ten digits
  • Reduces difficult finger motions to a minimum– avoids use of the same finger twice in succession
  • Adjusting key height and slope also allows for considerable increase in typing speed

The Malt layout is significantly faster to learn and to use, eliminating left-right brain coordination and neuron pathway confusion problems.

The Maltron keyboard caters for everyone – there are keyboards designed for one handed and head/mouth typing for people who are unable to use one or both of their hands.

For more benefits and research showing how the Maltron keyboard is more accurate and ergonomically sound visit our website, or read the research articles provided below.

We even provide a FREE training program to let you teach yourself.

Contact us today to discuss how our Maltron keyboards can help you design an ergonomically correct workspace and prevent RSI.

References and further reading

Hobday, S.W. (1985). Keyboards designed to fit hands and reduce postural stress. Paper presented to the Ninth Congress of the International Ergonomics Association, 2-6 September 1985, Bournemouth, England.

Quinter, J.L. (1995). The Australian RSI debate: stereotyping and medicine. Disability and Rehabilitation, 17(5), 256-262.

Zipp, P., Haider, E., Halpern, N., & Rhomer, W. (1983). Keyboard design through physiological strain measurements. Applied Ergonomics, 14(2), 117-122.

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