How to Fix It When Arrow Keys Are Not Working in Excel

Troubleshooting navigation buttons in Excel

It can be very annoying when your arrow keys are not working in Excel. This problem can occur for any of the following reasons.

  • The Scroll Lock key is enabled
  • Excel is in Formula Entry mode
  • Freeze Panes has locked the visible area of the sheet
  • An Excel add-in conflict is causing the issue
  • Sticky Keys glitch is keeping scroll lock enabled
  • Excel sheet is protected
  • Complex formulas are processing

The issue with arrows not working in Excel can happen at any time, whether you're in the middle of editing a worksheet or switching between sheets. This makes it even more difficult to troubleshoot the source of your problem.

This procedure applies to Microsoft Office 2019, 2016, and Microsoft 365. Older versions of Excel may not display the scroll lock status as described in this article, but many of the solutions may still work.

Image of keyboard arrow keys
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Cause of Arrow Keys Not Working in Excel

The most common cause for arrow keys not working in Excel is scroll lock being enabled. This can be especially frustrating if your keyboard doesn't have a Scroll Lock key, or there is no light indicator showing it's enabled.

Complicating things further, there are a number of other issues that can lead to arrows not working in Excel. So, the best approach is to confirm whether scroll lock is enabled, and if it isn't, move down the list of other troubleshooting tips.

How to Fix Arrow Keys Not Working in Excel

The following troubleshooting tips are listed in order of the most common to the least common causes for this issue, so working from first to last will solve the problem faster.

  1. Disable scroll lock. Check the status bar in Excel to see whether scroll lock is enabled. If it is, disable it using the Scroll Lock key on your keyboard, or using the on-screen keyboard in Windows.

    If you have an extended keyboard on a Mac, you can press either F14, Shift + F14, or Command + F14 to toggle scroll lock. On MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, FN + Shift + F12 will do the same. On other Mac laptops or smaller keyboards, you'll need to install a virtual keyboard app that includes the F14 key in order to disable scroll lock in Excel.

  2. Exit Formula Entry mode by pressing Enter. Formula Entry mode is when you select a cell in Excel, type = and then start typing a function. If you press an arrow key in this mode, the selected cell in the formula will change, but the arrow keys won't control the cursor in the sheet.

    To get arrow keys working again, press Enter and then Ctrl-Z to undo the current formula. This behavior can be confusing so make sure you understand how to correctly enter data into Excel cells.

  3. Unfreeze rows or columns inside the current view. If all the cells in the sheet you're looking at are inside of a group of columns or rows you've frozen, it may appear as though arrow keys stopped working in Excel. This isn't the case.

    If you don't want to unfreeze those panes, you could also try to zoom out the magnification in Excel so that you can use the arrow keys in the section of the spreadsheet that isn't frozen.

    Using Excel on a larger screen makes it less unlikely that you'll encounter this issue since the screen is usually larger than the area of the frozen pane.

  4. Disable suspicious add-ins. To find a recent add-in you installed and disable it, select File > Options > Add-ins. Then select Excel Add-ins > Go. Deselect all add-ins and select OK. If your arrow keys work again, you can go back and enable the add-ins one at a time to narrow down the culprit.

  5. Turn off Sticky Keys. Sometimes, glitches with the Sticky Keys feature in Windows can cause Excel to see the Scroll Lock key as enabled even when it isn't. Disabling Sticky Keys often resolves this issue.

    After disabling Sticky Keys, repeat the instructions in step 1 to ensure scroll lock is actually disabled after you've turned off the Sticky Keys feature.

  6. Unprotect the Excel workbook. When you open a protected workbook or worksheet, you won't be able to select cells or scroll through them. Unprotect the sheet first and arrow keys will work. Then you can protect it again when you're done.

  7. Check if you're performing multiple calculations. These sometimes take a long time to process and will prevent you from navigating around the Excel spreadsheet using the arrow keys.