Of Mice and Men – Mice and RSI

I’ve had a rather unpleasant history with mouse use, culminating in the inability to use a bog standard mouse with either hand for more than 2-3 minutes before the onset of severe pain. This reaction has built up over many years of mouse (ab)usage, and I have a certain loathing for the devices now. It has to be said that many of the cheaper mice (normally the ones shipped by certain PC manufacturers) are some of the most unergonomic pieces of equipment available. Computer manufacturers have a lot to answer for having shipped us less than ergonomic mice with their computers for the last 20 years. Quite often an end user does not experience any other type of mouse apart from the one that ships with their computer system. Whilst these mice are designed with aesthetically pleasing features, their ergonomic qualities leave a lot to be desired. This can of course be tolerable if the user seldom uses the computer, but if they do use it a lot then it can ultimately lead to the onset of RSI type symptoms.

Having seen what manufacturers ship with their systems, I would be a proponent of legislation to ensure that the basic minimum mouse is an ergonomic one. By ‘ergonomic’ I mean that it meets certain standards with respect to shape (comfort to hold on to), button (click) pressure, and optionally be available in different sizes to accommodate different hand sizes. Unfortunately, in the cut-throat cost driven PC market these days, this is unlikely to happen without legislation.

Some tips I have learned over the years regarding mouse use is as follows –

  • Try changing hands when using the mouse. Do it frequently (eg once an hour) in order to rest the other hand. Have a second mouse installed at the left hand side of the keyboard (if you can’t be bothered moving the original one)
  • Consider having 2-3 different styles of mice, and use each style for 1/3 of the day. This will change the motion of the fingers/hands to something different, and may help to break the cycle of repetitive motion associated with using a single mouse.
  • If you are having RSI symptoms already in your mouse hand, try obtaining 2-4 different styles of special ergonomic mice or alternative input devices and cycle through them for 1/4 of a working day at a time. Try to ensure that each mouse/input device operates differently especially the clicking motion. eg. 1 input device std right hand forefinger click, 1 input device right hand thumb click, 1 input device left hand forefinger click, 1 device left hand thumb click.
    This variety will maximise the resting time from the motion that is causing your specific RSI problem. If in doubt about input device choice, consult an ergonomist.
  • Consider trying out an alternative input device(s) entirely eg. graphics tablet, tablet PC, Contour Roller mouse, touch screen monitors , or the use of one of these with a standard ergonomic mouse. Alternatively you can wait for future developments in technology like the microsoft surface or the 3d motion sensor camera by 3DV Systems which I’d like to try out, although it remains to be seen whether such a device will be purely aimed at the gaming market as opposed to the general PC market

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12 comments

  1. ruthariel says:

    Great suggestions. I like the idea of having two mice plugged in and ready to go. By the way, I also use a foot pedal and foot mouse (Footime by Bili). The foot mouse is difficult to use, so often I get the cursor into the general area where I want to click and finish positioning it with the regular mouse. Also, using your feet causes strain on the neck (I have a neck injury), so I limit my use of this setup. Normally, I just use a regular mouse to position the cursor and the foot pedal to do the clicking and scrolling.

  2. alanf says:

    I have not seen the footime controller before, although I did at one stage try to use a No-Hands Mouse (www.footmouse.com). I found it very hard to get used to, and it certainly did not give me personally the control of a regular mouse that I needed. It also led to my ankle hurting for a while, which wasn’t the desired outcome either. This is the whole difficulty with alternative input devices, very few give the exact control that a regular mouse does. I am in no way sponsored by Contour Design, but the Contour Roller Mouse is the closest I’ve come to finding a viable control alternative to a regular mouse, with minimal (re) learning curve.

    Alas, my injury pre-dated it’s invention by several years otherwise it may have helped me more.

  3. woodcrafts says:

    One aspect of computer useage is that there are many ways of achiveving the same result. Most of the mouse functions can be done by keyboard shortcuts but very few people are aware of them. The original concept was to use the mouse for operations that needed to move quickly around the desktop, e.g. CAD, DTP, but functions such as word processing, spreadsheets should be achieved purely by keyboard functions. I suspect a lot of RSI is exacerbated by continual movement from keyboard to mouse and back again. How often have you seen someone completing an online form, use the mouse to move between fields, when the ‘Tab’ key will do exactly the same.
    This problem is due to ignorance of the extended keyboard functions, both on the part of users and trainers, and laziness of users to actually learn more functions. And these functions aren’t hidden. Look at any menu and you will usually see the keyboard functions to the right of the menu option. The commonest ones must be Ctrl/C for Copy, Ctrl/V for Paste, Ctrl/X for Cut, Ctrl/O for Open, Ctrl/P to Print. Get to know these and you will be much faster and save injury.
    Unfortunately some new software authors don’t conform to the original Windows standards, (Microsoft included) and these options have been forgotten but I contact those companiies to remind them of the problems their ‘abbreviated’ software is causing.
    Hope that is of interest to you.

  4. alanf says:

    I agree with you re shortcuts. I’ll be addressing this topic in future posts. Keyboard shortcuts are great, and really need to be learned by everyone. One downside of course is that they enable you to be more productive, which can of course result in you guessed it – more work!
    Having originally injured my hands on a keyboard I have to say that mice are not the sole culprit in causing RSI injuries. The act of continually tensioning/stressing the forearm, wrist, hand tendons and muscles coupled with the microscopic movements of typing and clicking seem to be the cause of many RSI problems.
    I also have found that continual use of many keyboard shortcuts in certain applications like spreadsheets can become equally repetitive in nature e.g. continual CTRL-C, CTRL-V usage. So while keyboard solutions should be learned by users, they can’t be solely relied upon for answers. Web browsing using Firefox is a very good example of what can be done with keyboard shortcuts

  5. ruthariel says:

    I agree that the foot mouse isn’t a great solution for moving the cursor; however, the foot pedal relieves me of a lot of the wear and tear of clicking and scrolling. The Footime mouse/pedal has both the mouse and a pedal with 5 buttons that can be used for up to 10 functions. It’s a little too complicated, but I do like using the 3 or 4 main functions that are available in all applications. Clicking is the most stressful movement for me, even worse than typing, so I love using the foot pedal to click.

    How is clicking when you use the Contour Roller Mouse? Are you tapping a touchpad?

  6. alanf says:

    The contour roller mouse has between 5 and 7 programmable buttons to choose from (depending on model bought) The clicking can be done by clicking the roller too. I found that controlling the roller position with the right hand, whilst using a combination of three fingers to click one button with the left hand (the buttons are fairly big) to be the best option for me. Unfortunately this excellent device arrived on the market too late to truly make a difference to my injury, although it certainly extended my time at work by a year or two.

  7. DThorpe says:

    You don’t need two mice plugged in – wireless versions are cheaper than ever – I’ve just realised the small one I got for my laptop works on my desktop, so I can swap hands at will.

  8. LChristianson says:

    For reducing clicking, try the Nib software offered at http://www.aerobicmouse.com
    I haven’t purchased it yet, I’m only in the 2nd day of my 30-day free trial, but I have already come to appreciate this handy tool. The software virtually eliminates the need to click/double-click. It includes a counter that records how many clicks the software has kept you from making. I have been using this tool for 1 working day and my current ratio is 3289 Nib clicks to my 377 clicks. That figures out to about 90% fewer clicks on my part! You might want to check this out! I am still trying to decide whether I want to invest in a Foot Mouse, or just try this software for a week and see if my RSI symptoms lessen. I will update this post next week.

  9. alanf says:

    The Nib software by Designer Appliances Inc. is a good choice for reducing mouse clicking use. See my blog post on reducing mouse use. In it I describe another free tool. called ‘point ‘n click by Polital‘ which is free. I used to use Nib software a long time ago when it was free and called ‘mousetool‘. It is a very useful piece of software, but since it’s now no longer free the Point ‘n Click software is the cheaper option.

  10. Hessiess says:

    Personally the best way that I have found to avoid RSI related to mouse usage is to simply not use one at all, and do absolutely everything with the keyboard. This involves using tools such as Tiling window managers, a number of Xterms, Vim, Vimperator, markup languages such as LaTeX and HTML and a decent Linux distro, as they are massively more customisable.

    For the times when the mouse is absolutely necessary(i.e. image editing), its hard to beat a graphics tablet.

  11. Jeff Ashby says:

    Mouse RSI cured.

    A few years ago I replaced my mouse and within a week began to experience severe pain in my right hand and wrist. Initally I did not make the
    connection, but soon did.

    I had used the original mouse for years and had no problems. The mouse sizes were similar, but the new one was slightly slimmer (width).

    I discarded the new mouse and bought a new one, the twin of my original, and the pain disappeared within days.

    A week ago I had to buy another mouse. I selected the widest one I could find, however within an hour of using it the hand pain started. Once again on comparison it was slimmer than the mouse I had been using, and without doubt was the root cause of my pain.

    I was not prepared to throw away a new mouse, particularly as there has been a trend towards producing smaller mice for some time, so now knowing it was a width issue I decided to experiment.

    In the garage I had a cheap set of adhesive, rubber, anti-skid protector pads. They are a couple of mm’s deep.

    Being right handed I stuck three of these along the right hand side of the mouse, and trimmed them with scissors.

    That was all that was needed. When I put my hand on the mouse I could tell immediately the increase in comfort, and more importantly no pain anymore.

    This may not work for everyone of course, but particularly if you have large hands it may do. If you need to you can put pads on both sides to increase the width a little more.

    The pads do not impede the use of the mouse at all, and actually improve the grip. Trimming them is easy if necessary.

    If you already have RSI from your mouse then do not expect the pain to go away immediately, but the chances are you will notice an improvement quickly, and hopefully the pain will go away.

  12. alanf says:

    Hi Jeff,

    thanks for sharing. Brings back memories of when I was going through bad pain at work. I found that attaching self adhesive rubber strips to the mouse it felt more comfortable. That also included the main mouse click button. The rubber actually dampened the click a bit too which helped me for a while.

    Alan

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