I'm developing repetitive strain issues from clicking my mouse. I'm looking for recommendations on ergonomic mice that might help.
August 6, 2010 4:50 PM   Subscribe

I'm developing repetitive strain issues from clicking my mouse. I'm looking for recommendations on ergonomic mice that might help.

I've developed pain in the middle of the top of my hand that is aggravated by moving my index finger to click on the mouse. It's related to pain in my upper, outside-edge lower-arm, near my elbow crease. (I've had problems with carpal tunnel in my wrists in the past - this is a different sensation.)

Right now I have a plain old garden-variety mouse. I'm looking into getting a more ergonomic mouse and am seeking recommendations from people who've had similar problems. In general, people seem to recommend trackballs as a more ergonomic option, but since moving my index finger is the problem, that doesn't seem to be a great solution for me.

Other info:
I've already read about proper posture and positioning of the mouse, as well as muscle stretches, but if you have any especially helpful info about it please post links.

Not using a mouse is not an option in the type of work I do. I'm already substituting with key commands when possible.

I am left-handed (for mousing too) so need a mouse that is compatible.
posted by scrambles to Computers & Internet (37 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A friend of mine with bad RSI in her wrists and hands uses this one. I believe they have right- and left-handed versions. If I recall correctly, the optical part is on the bottom, and you move the whole joystick to navigate, and the thumb button is two-sided (on a rocker). There's also a button on the front side of the joystick that you can program for scrolling and such.

I have had RSI issues also, though not of the kind you describe, and I've taken to (sometimes) using a pen and tablet. It's probably not a total solution for you as most of them have buttons on the pen that you use to replicate, for instance, a right-click. But I can replicate that by using the control key (I use a Mac), so I don't always have to use the pen button.
posted by devinemissk at 5:07 PM on August 6, 2010

When I broke my usual mouse-using arm, within a few days I was able to learn to use the mouse with my other hand. I can now switch at will.

I don't know if everyone would find it as easy to learn as I did, but you might find it worth a try?
posted by Mike1024 at 5:15 PM on August 6, 2010

I'm not sure how helpful this is, but I switch clicking fingers every now and then.
posted by The World Famous at 5:18 PM on August 6, 2010

I use this mouse at work (right-handed version3, actually), and it feels like much less of a strain. The only issue I had with it was the bottom button (closest to the desk) would trigger by accident, usually when I tried to pick up and move the mouse. I disabled it (set it to do nothing when clicked) and have had no complaints since. All told, I was using it like normal by the end of day one.
Good luck!
posted by Busithoth at 5:24 PM on August 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I can't help with ergonomic mice, since I was never able to find one that worked for me (I have similar hand issues); I ended up switching mouse hands after trying for a while to click with my middle and ring fingers instead of index and middle, if you know what I mean.

Switching hands has been the only thing that really helped me personally. It took me about a month or six weeks to get totally, interchangeably proficient at it (I used to do 3d modelling, and it's a lot of dexterity to transfer) but now I always mouse with my nondominant hand and repetitive strain no longer bothers me.
posted by zusty at 5:25 PM on August 6, 2010

I agree with Mike1024 -- I'm a lefty for writing but for some reason was a righty for mousing, and earlier this year started to develop a similar pain problem. So I switched to using my left hand for the mouse at work, and my right hand for trackpad-clicking at home, and the pain went away.
posted by oh yeah! at 5:25 PM on August 6, 2010

I have pretty awful RSI, and can only use a standard mouse for a limited time before getting a similar pain. The most comfortable mouse for me is actually a laptop touchpad (moving with middle finger of dominant hand, clicking with non-dominant thumb). My physiotherapist advised that instead of trying to find the one true mouse, I should use an assortment and shift between them often.
I also use one of these and a similarly sized wireless optical mouse. The key factor seems to be that they are quite big, keeping my fingers quite extended, supporting the whole hand, using the whole finger to click (instead of curling under to click with a fingertip). And, like Mike1024, it was pretty easy to adjust to mousing with the non-dominant hand.
posted by K.P. at 5:29 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I second Busitoth and the Evoluent Vertical Mouse.

I use this all day at the office without problems -- otherwise I feel pain in my hand as your describe radiating all the way up to my neck!

Now my problem is that not all my computers at home have this mouse.
posted by tsq at 5:29 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing the suggestion to mouse with your non-dominant hand. When I got my first computer-intensive job four years ago, I developed a tingling pain in my right wrist. I forced myself to mouse with my left hand, and nowadays it feels almost unnatural to revert back to using my right hand.
posted by invisible ink at 5:35 PM on August 6, 2010

This is a bad suggestion but it might bring to mind a better one: What if you did some of your work on an Ipad, or used a Bamboo pad?
posted by mecran01 at 5:43 PM on August 6, 2010

i had RSI problems then switched to a touchpad... i've been using the cirque/adesso cruise cat for years now without any issues at all. you do use your index finger, but in a very different way... mostly sliding, plus very gentle taps and double-taps (which you could do instead using your thumb on one of the buttons). i don't know what do without this thing!
posted by roxie110 at 5:43 PM on August 6, 2010

I switched from my right hand to my non-dominant left hand and the Aerobic Quill mouse. The only other mouse I liked was the Whale Mouse (now replaced by the Switch Mouse). I dislike the 3M and Evoluent mouses. This is a matter of personal fit, so you should try them all if you can.

The Aerobic mouse is not very precise and it is made worse by using my non-dominant hand. So I also use a cheap refurbished Wacom tablet on occasion, and keyboard shortcuts for everything possible.

Also, I started using Workrave, which probably matters even more.
posted by grouse at 5:51 PM on August 6, 2010

I have the Bamboo that is both a pen tablet and a touchpad. I prefer the tablet (using Illustrator and InDesign is really so much easier than with a mouse), but maybe you could rotate as necessary. It's pretty cheap too.
posted by dame at 5:51 PM on August 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

I used to have pretty bad wrist strain when I still had an apple mighty mouse, and I had to replace it after it got broken. I bought a Razer ProClick and it cut down on the strain big time, its angle and length really helped. They also make other models with other shapes for gamers (who knows wrist strain better?).
Since I'm a graphic designer, I also have a wacom tablet to switch off on when my arm gets tired from clicking. I strictly use the the pen one, but they have variations where one's nothing but a bigger version of a laptop touch pad, and a combo of pen and touch.

I also go get a massage every few months for an unraveling, it makes a huge difference! You might have tension in your arm or neck that you might not be aware of. I also like to play with a big glob of silly putty to exercise my hands.
posted by deinemutti at 5:52 PM on August 6, 2010

In general, people seem to recommend trackballs as a more ergonomic option, but since moving my index finger is the problem, that doesn't seem to be a great solution for me.

Is it just your index finger? I currently use this (pretty basic) trackball and often use only my middle and ring fingers to move the ball.
posted by mhum at 5:55 PM on August 6, 2010

I'm seconding K.P., but seeing as you're left handed, I'd go with on this Trackman mouse (If you can find one, Microsoft also used to make a similar, though I think superior mouse). It's the same one I use at work now, and it's helped to eliminate all of my clicking pain.
Back in my heyday of TeamFortress 2 (a click happy, team-oriented First Person Shooter on the PC), I was getting bad wrist and finger pains from clicking and moving the mouse so damn much and switching to that mouse did the trick. Granted, I couldn't successfully compete with the Trackman and consequently gave up TF2 & similar clickfest games to prevent permanent pains, but the Trackman still does the trick if you get used to it. Heck, I originally learned to play World of Warcraft on the Trackman.
posted by jmd82 at 5:58 PM on August 6, 2010

OK, I'm an idiot. I meant to link mhum's mouse for being left handed.
posted by jmd82 at 5:59 PM on August 6, 2010

You could try using a foot pedal in conjunction with your normal mouse.
posted by whiskeyspider at 6:05 PM on August 6, 2010

I always worried that that might just move the problem to my knee. Have you tried it?
posted by grouse at 6:06 PM on August 6, 2010

I also have used the 3M one devinemissk links. It took a little while to get used to, of course, but once I did it helped enormously.
posted by jocelmeow at 6:09 PM on August 6, 2010

Also, it's quite easy to use a computer without a mouse these days. Try conkeror as your web browser and xmonad as your window manager.
posted by jrockway at 6:25 PM on August 6, 2010

I don't know if it qualifies as "not using a mouse," but RSI people I've known have used the Trackman Marble optons.
posted by rhizome at 6:43 PM on August 6, 2010

The Microsoft mouse jmd82 mentions is the Optical Trackball Explorer, and they tend to run $200-300 used. There are a few people offering repair services on Ebay if you have one that needs to be fixed up a bit.

It's the only mouse I can use these days - it fixed my RSI entirely, but it might not be ideal for you. This mouse is still in high demand because it's one of the very few trackballs that put the ball at the front-right for control with your index/middle fingers. Left-/right-click are positioned for the thumb, with buttons 3 and 4 at the ring/pinky fingers. (Typically the trackball's centered or on the left, with most mice targeting the thumb.) I don't like having the thumb-trackball but you might find it works for you and it'll be quite a lot cheaper.

Also, something completely different: the Kinesis Rollermouse has worked for friends of mine. Their keyboards are great as well.
posted by ethand at 6:50 PM on August 6, 2010

No mouse suggestions but a couple cautionary tales and a suggestion to look at underlying behaviors (eg, overuse in general) as well as mechanical ergonomics.

Cautionary tale #1: guy in the lab upstairs develops RSI similar to what you describe. Switches to non-dominant hand, develops RSI there. Switches to trackball on floor, develops RSI in ankle. Finally notices pattern, teaches himself to take breaks, stretch, etc.

Cautionary tale #2: trumpet player friend, RSI in right index finger. Starts fingering valves with next 3 fingers, which buys him about 2 years before RSI moves down to his middle finger. Out of fingersCautionary tale on that hand; rebuilds all his horns to allow left-hand playing. Finally recognizes pattern when left index finger gets achy, etc., etc.
posted by range at 6:51 PM on August 6, 2010

My Trackman Marble FX hasn't been made for a decade, and I don't know what I'll do when it finally gives up the ghost, as NOS or used models go for silly amounts. It doesn't rely on index finger movement, and it got me through a period of awful RSI. Like the MS Optical Trackball Explorer, it's the size of the trackball that makes the difference.
posted by holgate at 7:01 PM on August 6, 2010

I have a similar problem with mousing and have found that wearing an IMAK SmartGlove whenever I'm at my computer helps immensely. I still just use a regular mouse, but as long as I'm wearing the glove, it doesn't seem to be a problem.
posted by platinum at 8:11 PM on August 6, 2010

people seem to recommend trackballs as a more ergonomic option, but since moving my index finger is the problem, that doesn't seem to be a great solution for me.

I had terrible RSI when I used to code. Everyone told me to switch to left-handed mousing. I vetoed that because I play the violin and didn't want the problem to migrate. Instead I bought a Kensington Expert Mouse trackball. I click with my (more resilient) thumb and swoosh the ball around with my middle finger. It's awesome, I highly recommend it. I also got a donut shaped forearm strengthener which helped stretch the right things and reduce the pain. I haven't had any problems since then (~15 years ago).
posted by girlhacker at 8:47 PM on August 6, 2010

Switch to mousing with your non-dominant hand (your right hand, since you're left handed).

I did this years ago & it really helps.

We use our dominant hand, well, dominantly and so it tends to get the brunt of any repetitive motions we do.

Just switching the mouse to the non-dominant hand gives the dominant hand enough of a break to make a difference (at least it did for me).

Also it's really easy to do--it took maybe a couple of days max before it stopped feeling awkward.
posted by flug at 9:21 PM on August 6, 2010

IIRC, program rsiguard has an option to 'autoclick', which means that when you move the mouse and hold it for configurable amount of time (e.g. half a second), it will click by itself. Once you get used to it it works pretty good. The program has a free trial for 30 or 45 days. Maybe there's other programs that do the same thing now. I know there was a very simple program called autoclick.exe that did the same thing but rsiguard's autoclick had some 'smart' features; autoclick.exe was annoying to use because it lacks said features.
posted by rainy at 9:26 PM on August 6, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the advice! I had no idea there was this wide a variety of potential solutions - I have about 20 browser tabs open now to investigate. It was helpful to hear what hasn't worked for you all as well.

Hopefully I can find some of these to test out in person in the next day or so. The software sounds like it has some potential as well.
posted by scrambles at 11:24 PM on August 6, 2010

Thirding the Evoluent mouse - though I use this for more normal use rather than graphics, so it might not be quite as good if you're doing a lot of that.

Non-mouse recommendation - take your good hand, grab the forearm, at the wrist, of RSI hand. Twist your RSI hand back and forth a couple of times, like you were doing the princess wave. Move your good hand grip further down the forearm, twist again, move down the forearm, twist again, etc. Basically, your good hand applies the pressure, but by twisting your wrist, you move the muscles underneath the skin and cause a massaging effect.

The tingling you're getting on the edge of your arm is from an impinged nerve, which happens either from computer work and/or leaning on that arm. Loosening the muscles takes the pressure off the nerve. You should also find out if you're stress-clenching that hand at night, because it'll also make that effect worse.
posted by yeloson at 12:48 AM on August 7, 2010

Seconding (thirding) mousing with the left hand, if you're a righty. The majority of actions on a standard keyboard--page up/down, arrow-key scrolling, hitting the return key--are performed with the right hand. It needs a break. Switching the mouse to the left hand was a one-month learning curve, but it feels perfectly natural now. The upside is that you don't need to choose a special mouse---anything on the market (even mouses curved to fit the right hand) can be adjusted to.
posted by Gordion Knott at 2:39 AM on August 7, 2010

Apple's new magic trackpad might be another possibility. It's a big version of a laptop trackpad, if that type of input works better for you. It's kind of expensive and I'm not sure how well it works with non-Apple computers, although I understand it doesn't support all the gestures under Windows. But you should be able to go to an Apple store and try it out to see how it feels.
posted by 6550 at 9:34 AM on August 7, 2010

There's a short video I forgot to mention earlier that shows a series of hand/wrist exercises. These have worked extraordinarily well for me, I just go through the sequence sometimes during my scheduled typing breaks.
posted by ethand at 9:51 AM on August 7, 2010

Response by poster: For anyone who's been following this thread, FYI, I've found that some of these products - the Logitech Trackman with the thumb ball, the 3M ergonomic mouse, and the latest version of the Evoluent Vertical Mouse, are not available for left-handers.

Does anyone use the Evoluent 2, and how does it handle? I figure there are probably some problems with it, if they've upgraded to the 3 for right-handers.

I've also found some software that allows you to convert a joystick or game pad into a mouse. So if you have any recommendations on ergonomic joysticks (besides the 3M), that might be a good option too.
posted by scrambles at 10:15 PM on August 7, 2010

I recently switched to a Kensington Expert trackball, and it's made coding a lot more comfortable. Don't worry about the index finger thing; the ball is big enough that you move it around with 3 or 4 fingers. Also it's symmetrical, so you can switch between using your right/left hand at will.
posted by primer_dimer at 4:13 AM on August 9, 2010

On the software side, MouseFighter lets you use your mouse through the keyboard.

posted by smistephen at 8:36 AM on August 10, 2010

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