Better Mouse Ergonomics

As a heavy computer user, I used to have a lot of problems with my right wrist. I thought I was getting a serious case of carpal tunnel syndrome. I often had to massage my wrist, and I also used some interesting stretching techniques to help relieve the discomfort. I'd heard of people who needed surgery to correct the problem, and I thought that would eventually be my fate.

Then I realized there was something I could do about it. I've figured out a few things that have changed my life, and I have no discomfort any more. Most of my problems come from the mouse, and I really believe that's where most other people's problems also lie.

Here are the things I've learned, and suggestions to help you with this type of problem:

Use your other hand

This is a big one, and so simple, yet the idea eludes almost everyone. You have two hands. You've been using your right hand for the mouse your whole life. Give it a rest. Move the mouse to the left side of the keyboard. Use it like that for a few years. It will give your right hand time to heal. In a few years, your left might start to hurt, then you can move it back to the right.

I know what you're thinking: "I'm right handed, I could never use the mouse on my left!". I'm going to appeal to bravado here and tell you to get over it. Don't be such a baby. Humans are the most adaptable animals on the planet. It's the reason we have houses, cars, running water, and computers. It'll probably take you a day or two, maybe a week to get used to it, but the alternative is pain and eventually surgery... surgery that might not even work.

I know people who have taken this advice, and have never looked back. This is one of the biggest changes you can make, and you will probably start to have results in about 2 weeks. Here are a few tips on adapting to using the left side:

  • You can switch the buttons in Windows by going to Control Panel/Mouse, and tell it the mouse is on the left side. It will swap the buttons so the main button is under your left index finger.
  • It can get a little confusing if someone tells you to "right-click" or "left-click", because the buttons are swapped. Keep that in mind and you'll be able to figure it out.
  • If you play games (like shoot-em-up games, not solitaire) and use the mouse, it really does make sense to have it on the right. When you're in the game, put it on the right, when you're done playing, move it back to the left.
  • Believe it or not, using the mouse with your left hand can cause you to get dizzy and disoriented. You are using a new part of your brain, and it might take a while to adjust. This might last a day or two. Don't give up!! Remember, SURGERY.

Remove the Weights from the Mouse

I noticed that other than my wrist hurting, the muscles in my hand were often sore -- as if I were lifting weights all the time. It turns out, I was.

Most of the (optical) mice I have seen are too heavy for their size. One day, I took out my screwdriver and opened one up to find out why. What did I find? A big chunk of useless metal bolted inside!

I'm not sure if this is to prevent the mouse from feeling like a cheap piece of plastic, or if it has something to do with precision, but I removed it. Ever since, I have not noticed any difference in how the mouse works. All I know is that it's much lighter, and the muscles in my hand stopped bothering me. All you need is a Phillips head screwdriver.

Lighter = Easier to Move = Less Strain on Your Hand

Put the Mouse Next to the Keyboard

This might be obvious, but I've seen real power users with a setup like this. For some reason there's no room for the mouse right next to the keyboard, so it gets placed somewhere else. I've seen it in front of the keyboard, behind the keyboard, on the ledge next to the monitor, or maybe another desk, a table, or on a cardboard box. This causes real problems over the long run because it forces you to move and reach for something that should be right there. It puts strain on your back, shoulder, elbow, and tendons. You should be able to move as little as possible without changing elevation to reach the mouse.

Pay Attention to Sharp Edges

You might not notice it, but the angle your arm goes up to your desk might cause the edge of the desk to dig into your wrist. For me, I never noticed it, but I was always sore there. I had a stroke of genius one day and realized what I was doing.

Eliminating this problem is pretty simple: Don't rest your arm on the edge of the desk. Sometimes awareness of what you're doing is all you need.

So there you have it. It's not profound, but I hope it helps you if you are in discomfort, and maybe gets you thinking a little more about your own ergonomic setup. Ergonomics is about what makes you the most comfortable, and each person is different. If you are having problems, try something else! You'll be glad you did.

After an ergo-eval, they hooked me up with a track ball mouse that can be utilized for left or right hand. It rocks, all pain has magically disappeared! Its a Kensington "Orbit" brand mouse...worth a shot to get rid of that annoying pain distracting you from emailing old friends...*cough*