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How to relieve work-from-home pain with this ergonomic office gear

If you're skeptical about ergonomic products, these three might make you a believer.

ergonomic-office-gear
Josh Goldman/CNET

Working from home turned into a literal pain in the neck for me last year. I have spinal stenosis that causes pain that runs down my neck and into my arms and eventually turns into numbness and tingling in my hands. Combined with wrist tendonitis from decades at a computer and not having a proper office desk and chair at home, I struggled to stay comfortable for the first few months of the pandemic. Finding a good ergonomic mouse, keyboard and chair as well as raising my laptop display made all the difference.

Although I tested several ergonomic mice, keyboards and chairs, the three below worked best for me and I chalk it all up to one thing: customization. Instead of a one-size-fits-most approach, these three offer degrees of customization that result in a better fit for your body. There are adjustment periods for them but they're relatively short compared to other ergonomic gear I've used. 

See also: 7 must-have ergonomic upgrades for your home office

Josh Goldman/CNET

Like a lot of ergonomic office products, companies that make ergonomic mice aim for the largest group of potential users. But by doing that, they're inevitably leaving out a number of people whose hands are too small or too large or the mouse is for right-hand users and not left. The Unimouse is the rare option that'll really work for just about anyone. 

The wireless mouse is available for left and right hands (it's available in a wired version, too) and has a crazy amount of adjustability to create a custom fit for your hand. The top part of the body starts at a 35-degree angle, but its friction hinge lets you lift it up to a 75-degree angle -- or anywhere in between -- that puts it into more of a handshake position. Its ball-mounted thumb support cradles your thumb and can be rotated and tilted to whatever position is most comfortable for you. Also, it's on a telescoping post so you can use a wider or narrower grip. The post can also be moved forward and backward. 

A 2.4GHz USB adapter is used for its wireless connection, there is no Bluetooth, and it can be used wired while you charge it with the included micro-USB cable. There are six programmable buttons:  left, middle, right, scroll click, forward and back. I appreciated having the additional button on top (once my muscle memory adjusted to it), but the forward and back button placement was just a little too far back on the body for me to use comfortably. The included app is basic but gets the job done letting you reprogram buttons and adjust cursor scroll speeds. DPI can be set from 800 to 2800 in increments of 200 with the software or a button on the mouse. You can also set up application-specific profiles with the app.    

If you're ready to give an ergonomic mouse a try, the Unimouse's customizable design is tough to beat. However, if you're interested in a more traditional mouse or trackball design, we have some recommendations for those mice as well.

See also: Best keyboard for 2021

Josh Goldman/CNET

Freedom, like most ergonomic keyboards, aims to eliminate pain caused by using a traditional office keyboard. Instead of a radical redesign, though, Zergotech took a split ergonomic keyboard and improved it with unique gliding palm rests that let your hands float while you type. Bays below the keyboard allow individual palm rests to slide around so you can reach all the keys while keeping your wrists up and level. The keycaps are also specially designed with an ergonomic curve for more natural finger positioning.

Each half of the keyboard tents up toward the center at a 5-degree angle. But, for more lift in any direction, there are four folding feet underneath to raise the bottom, top, left or right of each side to get the perfect positioning for you and your work setup. 

With the split design, Zergotech also tweaked the key layout to make all of the rows more symmetrical. That means there will be an adjustment period for most people. It took me a couple of weeks of regular use, but I recommend committing to using it full time because going back and forth between it and a standard layout seemed to make things worse. (You can use its sliding wrist rests on a desk with a regular keyboard or mouse, though, which helped relieve pain when I wasn't using the Freedom.)

Also, I liked that no software is needed to program the keyboard for your needs such as creating shortcut keys, copying or swapping keys or switching from a Windows to MacOS key layout. It's all done with simple key combos and a text editor like Notepad for the interface. (Check out the PDF guides on its site to get a better idea of how it works.) There's also a mouse layer you can activate if you'd rather keep your hands on the keyboard all the time.  

The overall feel of the keyboard is great thanks to the Kailh Box mechanical switches that were custom made to eliminate any scraping or ping from the springs. The result is a smooth actuation with no off-putting sound and no wobble due to the boxed stem design. The Kailh white switches I tested have a pleasing click, but might be too loud if you're sharing space. The company also offers a quieter tactile switch and includes O-rings to dampen clack when the keys bottom out.

Zergotech's fresh approach to the ergonomic keyboard really works. Since the keyboard layout doesn't change too much from what you're likely used to, the adjustment period is relatively short and being able to get the proper positioning for me is much better than the one-size-fits-most approach by others. But it's the sliding wrist rests that really help get you in the right position to relieve wrist and shoulder pain. At $339, it's a worthwhile investment and it's covered with a 60-day money-back guarantee and a 2-year warranty. 

See also: The best office chairs for 2021

ErgoCentric

There are chairs that are labeled ergonomic and then there's the tCentric Hybrid from ErgoCentric. It's not a one-size-fits-all chair or even one you buy strictly by size. Instead, the Canadian-based company helps you build a chair that's a perfect fit for your body. The company even has an ergonomist on staff you can video chat with.

To simplify the build process, ErgoCentric created an online chair fitting tool. Just answer some simple questions, enter a handful of basic body measurements and upload optional front-facing and profile photos of yourself in a chair. Within 24 hours you'll have a recommendation. A custom chair ships within five days and is ready to use out of the box -- no assembly required. And if you change your mind once it arrives, you can return it for a full refund. 

The tCentric Hybrid I tested was fitted with the company's Synchro Glide system, which links the backrest movement with the seat so that when you lean back the seat tilts back slightly as well. Combined with the chair's independent back-angle adjustment, the whole chair feels like it's moving with you, supporting you no matter how you sit. 

The height of the backrest is adjustable up to 5 inches, too, so the lumbar support is in the correct spot. And there's an optional air-filled lumbar support that you can inflate while you sit in the chair. In fact, everything can be adjusted without standing and the handles all have different shapes to cut down on those sudden accidental seat height drops. 

The armrests have height, lateral and swivel adjustments. The seat depth is adjustable up to 2.5 inches and uses a unique airless cushion made from soft rubber. It works with the mesh to help give you the extra support that you don't get with other mesh chairs and you don't end up sitting on the chair frame under you. 

However, if you'd rather have an upholstered foam seat with a mesh back, you can get that (it's where the Hybrid in the name comes from). I tested the full mesh version, which kept me cool and the airless cushion gave me just enough support to keep me comfortable throughout my workday. Also, if you're going to splurge on any of the extras this chair is available with, the headrest is a must-have. It adjusts at three different pivot points to support your head and neck in any position or you can move it entirely out of the way.  

There are a lot of things to like about this chair but in the end, it's all about the support it gives you. For myself, it means relief from intense neck and shoulder pain caused by spinal stenosis. Having a chair that keeps me properly supported and comfortable all day makes it worth the expense. Plus, the tCentric Hybrid is covered with a 12-year warranty and covers everything -- from the casters to the headrest and all of the chair's moving mechanisms.

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