10 tips to improve your mousing technique

Now that mousing is more commonplace – even more so than keyboarding sometimes – it is important to have good mousing technique.  Without good technique, you put yourself at risk for pain and discomfort which may turn into musculoskeletal injuries such as tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome.  Here are some tips to help you stay comfortable and pain-free while mousing (for clarity, this is based on right-handed users – my apologies to the left-handed users):

1.    Adjust the height of your keyboard and mouse tray so that your elbows are at 90 degrees of flexion.  This eliminates the constant need for the neck and shoulder muscles to raise your right arm to desk level to reach the mouse.

2.    When mousing more frequently than keyboarding, move your chair and monitor a few inches to the right so that you’re not reaching as much with your right arm.  An even better option is to get a keyboard where the numeric keypad is on the left or is eliminated completely.  That way you don’t have to reach past the keypad causing overuse and awkward postures.

3.    Don’t hover over the mouse when you’re not using it.  Rest your hand lightly on the mouse or take it away completely.

4.    Don’t use a mouse pad with a gel support – the support places more pressure on the wrist and carpal tunnel.  Instead, change your mousing posture.  Mouse with the right side of the palm resting on the mouse pad.  Pressure is now being placed on an area with less nerve and blood supply and more protection from the cushioning fat of the palm.

5.    Move your mouse to very edge of keyboard tray closest to you so that your wrists are free floating and cannot rest on the tray.

6.    Take breaks from keyboarding and/or mousing frequently to reduce cramping and increase blood supply.  Walk around the office once every 30-60 minutes.

7.    Alternate tasks every 15-30 minutes throughout the day.  Try to break up extended periods of computer work with phone calls, meetings or reading tasks.

8.    Try to using your left hand for mousing to give your right hand a break. To change your mouse to a left-handed mouse – go to Start, Control Panel, Mouse.

9.    Use short cut keyboard keys to reduce mouse use.  To make your own shortcut keys – go to View, Toolbars, Customize, Commands, Keyboard.

10.  Consider getting a vertical mouse or a joystick.  These mice place your hand in a handshake posture, eliminating the awkward posture of wrist pronation.


Why mousing can cause injuries

Nowadays, there is more mouse use than ever.  Websites and other new software require more mousing than word processing did in the past.  Although mousing is fast and efficient, it can also cause ergonomic risk factors such as these:

Force – Some mouse buttons are sticky requiring more force from the fingers.  Also, the farther away the mouse is the more force is required from the arm and shoulder to reach.

Repetitive motion – Mousing requires repetitive motion of the fingers, wrists, arm and shoulder.

Overuse – If you mouse on a frequent basis, you are using muscles in your fingers, wrists, arms and shoulders continually.  If you mouse all day at work and then go home to use the computer at night, these muscles don’t get a break.  Each day you do this, the muscles have less time to recover, increasing the chance for injury.

Contact stress – The most common place for is contact stress when mousing is on the inside of your wrist where the carpal tunnel is located.  This area does not have a great deal of protection from contact stress.  There is only a thin layer of skin (no cushioning fat) with the tendons and veins visible and exposed.  When contact stress is placed on this area, pressure builds up in the carpal tunnel causing narrowing and reduced nerve and blood supply.  This puts people at the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.  Another area to watch is the forearm.  Depending on where the mouse is located, some people rest their forearms against the sharp surface of the desk causing an even more forceful and localized type of contact stress.

Awkward postures – The mouse is usually located to the right of the keyboard beyond the numeric keypad.  Because of this, reaching with the right arm is required resulting in awkward postures.  The elbow can’t stay at 90 degrees of flexion and it can’t stay next to the torso where there is little to none requirement for muscle use.  The wrist also becomes more extended the farther away the mouse is.  With each degree of extension, the awkward posture becomes more pronounced and the risk for injury increases.

To make matters worse, when there is a combination of risk factors – for example, repetitive motion and awkward postures together – the risk for injury increases.  But there are many ways to combat risk factors by improving technique which I will discuss in my next post.