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The Effects of Frequent Mouse Usage

Tuesday, April 21, 2009
By Anne Kramer

Mice appear innocuous enough. They fit right in the palm of the hand and allow fast, simple navigation for any computer-based task. Frequent or excessive mouse usage, however, can cause repetitive stress injuries (RSI), from tingling or numbness in the hands and arms to pain in the upper back and shoulders. Frequent mouse usage has also been strongly linked to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS).

Because most people pay little attention to the size and location of their mice, they increase their risk of developing an RSI. This is because incorrect mouse use places extra stress on the tendons and nerves of the hands and wrists. Overextension of the arm to reach the mouse also increases tension on the arm, shoulder, and back muscles. Over time, the brain can even develop a psychosomatic reaction to clicking the mouse, associating it with pain long after an injury has healed.

A mouse fulfills a vital role in every office place, but alternative tools serve the same function while encouraging healthy posture:

  • Many keyboard commands and shortcut buttons complete the same functions accomplished with mousing. This is especially true for word processing programs. Often keyboard commands can be tailored to the user’s needs, to further curtail the need for a mouse.
  • The mouse itself can be reprogrammed, so that functions can be done with the center button or the scroll wheel. This allows the hand to maintain a more neutral position on the mouse.
  • The mouse can be replaced with a touchpad. These are already installed on many laptops, but they are also available for desktop computers. Because a touchpad requires so little force to operate, it significantly minimizes the stress placed on the fingers and hands.
  • For computer users who need to reduce only their mouse usage, a trackball is an excellent alternative. They are excellent for people who experience shoulder pain, since they allow the arm to remain stationary during use. Trackballs usually also feature programmable buttons for executing commands as needed.
  • Voice-recognition software has the double benefit of reducing use of both the mouse and the keyboard. Since typing also contributes to the incidence of RSI, anyone who spends equal time typing and mousing would benefit from this software.
  • Another way to eliminate both keyboarding and mouse usage is with a foot switch. Each switch can be programmed with a different command, allowing users to customize the switches to their specific tasks. Foot switches are especially advantageous to those who have incurred injury due to over-clicking.
  • The central input devices such as the Roller Bar style mice are based on the principles of centering the pointing device between the user and keyboard (defined between the G and H keys). This positioning keeps the user's hands and arms in a more neutral position during keyboard and mouse work. Employing this principle, this product reduces or eliminates sideways or reaching arm movements that can increase the risk of RSI.
Regardless of which tools are used, it is important to stretch properly before beginning computer work. Taking frequent breaks, either by changing tasks or resting, is also a critical step for preventing repetitive stress injuries. Paired with the proper equipment, these measures will reduce the pain and injuries associated with mouse use.

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