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Is Your Mouse a Hazard to your Health?

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Just how many hours do you sit at your computer with your trusty mouse at your side? Using your mouse can be hazardous for a couple of reasons.

Using a mouse requires you to make small, exact movements with your hand, fingers and thumb. This means: positioning, traveling, scrolling, and clicking the mouse. These repetitive movements used over and over and over can lead to discomfort because the same small muscles become overworked and tired.

The mouse has become a common piece of computer equipment developed to help people use computers more quickly and easily. Mouse software has been around since the introduction of Windows technology in the 1990s.

This discomfort or pain manifests itself at the top of the hand, around the wrist and along the forearm and elbow. In later stages of overuse, ganglion cysts can develop around the joints and along the tendons. In severe cases, there may be numbness and tingling in the thumb and index finger that develop into carpal tunnel syndrome.

Another reason that using a mouse can be hazardous results from its placement. If it is awkward to reach, it creates strain. Computer work areas usually have limited space and the keyboard is already directly in the front. When the mouse is placed over to the right or left, it is out of the safe distance range for comfortable hand movements. When using the mouse, you have to reach your arm out and forward then and hold it there. In this position, your arm is unsupported as long as you are using the mouse.

This movement and this unsupported suspension of your arm again and again throughout the workday can cause soreness and fatigue. In this position, you are putting an extra load on the muscles in the trapezius muscle of the upper back and the deltoid muscle of the shoulder. This repeated and uninterrupted use can cause aches and pains in the shoulder and neck area. The lower back can also be pained, not because of the mouse, but because of poor body posture while sitting for hours at the computer.

Obvious, right? So, what can you do to reduce the risk of injury from this pesky mouse?
Here are a few tips:
1. Take frequent breaks from repetitive activity. Stop before the pain starts.Most ergonomists recommend taking at least four typing breaks per hour: three for thirty seconds and one for three minutes. Close your eyes for a moment to give them a break too. Try to structure your work so that typing in interspersed with other activities.
2. Keep fingernails short if you do a lot of typing. Long fingernails make it more difficult to maintain a good typing position (wrists straight, fingers pointed down and slightly curved) and may also interfere with using the mouse.
3. Make sure you’re sitting properly. Current ergonomic research suggests that leaning back slightly while typing can be more beneficial than sitting perfectly straight.
4. Use a support for your forearm. These supports automatically position arms and hands into proper position.
5. Explore an alternative mouse or keyboard. Search for a mouse that can comfortably fit your hand a workspace. Some users find that a flexible, gentle touch keyboard is more comfortable than the standard.
6. Use common sense. If your hand, forearm or shoulder hurts, quit using it. Move the muscle, stretch and strengthen. Don’t wait for pain to change behavior.

These tips will also work for pain and discomfort from using the computer track pad, a topic for next week.

Add a Comment7 Comments

I've come to think of all the people I know - myself included - who suffer from mouse-related problems with their right hand and arm. Perhaps we should try to develop a complete keyboard for presumed arm-handicapped people. The voice-steered one I don't like, but I could envisage a keyboard with many more buttons and no mouse / that is in moments of pain as well as wishful thinking.

May 5, 2010 - 2:43pm

I wish we could get a vertical mouse here too, but alas, nobody seems to have heard of it in my country.

March 12, 2010 - 1:07am
(reply to Augusta)

Check online, the mouse I use is made by a company called Evoluent.

March 12, 2010 - 9:41am
(reply to dragonl1202)

Thanks, I shall see into the matter, but until now I've not been able to find any producers of these different mouse-tools here.

March 16, 2010 - 1:16pm
Expert HERWriter Guide Blogger

Anon - Thanks for writing and sharing this information. I hadn't heard of a vertical mouse before. It sounds like a good solution for many people. From the company website: An ordinary horizontal mouse requires your forearm to twist away from its natural position. The patented shape (of the vertical mouse) supports your hand in a fully upright handshake position that eliminates forearm twisting.The grip is the same as an ordinary mouse, just turned sideways into a handshake position. Many users said they got used to it very quickly.

I'm glad you've found the mouse helpful at work, and hope you'll be able to get one for home use. Take good care of your elbow! Pat

March 11, 2010 - 6:01pm
EmpowHER Guest

Last year I had three fractures in my right elbow and was out of work for 3 months. My physical therapist suggested a vertical mouse, or handshake style. It keeps me from twisting my forearm to have my hand flat to use the mouse. I talked to my bosses and they supplied one for me. It has made it much easier on my arm. I want to get one for my home computer.

March 11, 2010 - 12:27pm

Alas, this is only too true, but the alternatives are so less useful that it's easy to forget at the moment ....

March 11, 2010 - 1:45am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.