How long did it take you to switch your mousing hand? Is it worth it?
August 6, 2014 7:59 AM   Subscribe

My right side is developing RSI and pinched nerve symptoms more and more, so in addition to ordering a better keyboard and mouse I also am trying to switch to using my left hand for mousing, to rest my right (dominant) side. However, trying this now with my normal mouse, I want to punch in the computer after a little while. How long did it take for you switch mousing hands, if you've done it, and was it worth it?

I'm a righty, but my right hand (+ elbow, + arm) is developing RSI and pinched nerve symptoms more and more, so in addition to ordering a better keyboard and mouse (for typing and mousing with my arms in a vertical thumbs-up position (Goldtouch and Evoluent, specifically, if curious) I also am trying to switch to using my left hand for mousing, to rest my right (dominant) side. However, trying this now with my normal mouse, I want to punch in the computer after a little while.

How long did it take for you switch mousing hands, if you've done it, and was it worth it? We haven't put in the order yet for the fancy vertical mouse (which requires specifying Right or Left version), and my concern is that I'll never get used to the lefty ergo mouse (and then we'll have spent a lot of $ on something I can't use.) But, on the other hand (ha), I do want to give my right side a break because it's my writing/tennis playing/everything hand and therefore much more important to rest I think.

Also, I had an ergo assessment for my chair, keyboard and monitor height, etc. when I first started here 2 years ago, so that all should be set up correctly. I guess I can call the ergo people in again to double check that aspect too.

Thoughts? Thanks!
posted by NikitaNikita to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm bi-mousual. Yes, I believe that the mouse has been the source of more RSI-ish symptoms in me than the keyboard ever was.

Actually, the hardest bit about switching mouse hands was keeping the left and right buttons straight, but that happened really quickly, like an hour or so. So, yeah, just put the mouse on the other side of the keyboard and see what happens. My guess is that unless you're doing illustration, within a few hours you'll wonder why it ever felt weird.
posted by straw at 8:02 AM on August 6, 2014

While I switched a while ago (at least two years), I don't think it took more than a couple of days (of 8 hours at a computer for work) for it to feel as natural as using my right hand to mouse. I'm pretty mous-idextrous now, but you need to be careful to not fall into the same bad habits with your left hand as your right. Though it looks like you're making all the appropriate changes, so that should help.
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:04 AM on August 6, 2014

I alternate mousing hands for similar reasons but with a normal mouse, not a fancy ergo one. I think it only took a few days to get functional with my left hand, but after years I am still not as good with the left for things requiring precision. Could you just try a normal mouse with your left hand for a while before dropping $ on the fancy one?
posted by ghharr at 8:05 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am ambidextrous to start, but making the switch to left mousing really fixed so many issues, not only due to the rest, but also because the right side of the keyboard made me stretch more, as the number pad is on the right side. I would be a vote to try it.
posted by kellyblah at 8:08 AM on August 6, 2014

I switched years and years ago and it was surprisingly fast. I just use my work-issued mouse. Power through it for a week and see how you do. (That said, if you have a really mouse-heavy job (CAD-stuff?, I dunno....), it might be more difficult. I'm mostly doing word-processing and some Excel). I tell myself it's good brain training.
posted by chocotaco at 8:09 AM on August 6, 2014

I'm right handed, keep my mouse buttons set for a left-handed person and switch back and forth. It took me a couple of weeks to really get used to using my left hand, and I still sometimes forget to put the mouse back if I've switched it to my right hand. But using my left hand some of the time made a huge difference to the balance and posture of my whole body. It's not just a matter of the RSI issues in my right shoulder, you mostly tend to lean a little toward your mouse hand, so switching that up throughout the day keeps everything from tilting in one direction.

When I need to do something fast or precise, my right hand is the better choice, even with the buttons flipped. It was way easier to teach my right hand to click backwards than to try to teach my left hand to click backwards, which is why I have it set to left handed.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:12 AM on August 6, 2014

I am right-handed, and I just use my normal mouse with my left hand. I don't remember any significant adaptation period, and I've been lefty-mousing for several years now. I will occasionally switch back to my right hand for tasks requiring precision and speed (some games, mostly) but for everyday tasks my left's good enough, and it keeps the RSI at bay. I find that the lack of speed and precision with my left hand may actually be beneficial (keeps me from relying on the mouse too much.)

I also use mechanical keyboards at home and work and that helps out quite a bit. When I switch back to a membrane keyboard for any significant length of time I start to feel The Ache again. I would seriously recommend even a relatively cheap, non-ergo-layout mechanical keyboard over even the most ergonomically-laid-out membrane keyboard. That mushy feel is hell on my wrists.
posted by asperity at 8:14 AM on August 6, 2014

I am highly *not* ambidextrous. Very strongly right handed.

At work I mouse with the left hand (regular nonergo mouse that I can't switch out), at home with the right (ergo trackball). I learned to mouse left about 2 years ago and it was so quick to learn I don't really remember having trouble (I had trouble for maybe a week or two). The biggest problem I have is when tech support comes in and can't figure out where the mouse is (sigh).

Learning some hotkey commands helped, so I use the mouse less in general. I think I learned these when I was irritated at having to use my left hand to mouse. It's also worth setting up a bit of an annoyance barrier if you're really trying to mouse lefty; that is, you don't want to make it too easy to switch back to the right; that way you'll actually form the brain connections necessary to mouse lefty.
posted by nat at 8:18 AM on August 6, 2014

I've switched mousing hands from right to left, for similar reasons to you. I didn't switch the buttons or anything. It didn't take very long to learn and feels perfectly natural now, though where speed and accuracy is important my left hand is not as good.

It was very worth it - I get no pain or soreness whatsoever in my left hand so it wasn't like I swapped one problem for another. It can also be more efficient, because you can scroll with your left hand while writing with your right.

Just be prepared for people to give you strange looks, and if anyone ever uses your computer they'll probably move your mouse and use it awkwardly on top of whatever you have sitting to the right of the keyboard...
posted by pianissimo at 8:36 AM on August 6, 2014

Best answer: I developed ulnar nerve entrapment along with a recurring ganglion cyst on my dominant (right) hand and made the mouse-hand switch maybe two years ago, no ergo mouse required. I still use my trusty standard two-button-scroll-wheel-in-the-middle $5 Logitech.

Precision mousing still needs to be done with my right hand, probably always will. I also keep the buttons set for right-handed mousing because some of the software programs I use every minute of every day *cough* Oracle EBS *cough* do not work at all when the mouse is set up (button functions reversed) for left-handed use. You can click and click, but it's like the pointer isn't even there! If a program you use seems to suddenly stop working altogether after you make the switch, you'll just have to leave the mouse set up for right-handed use and remember to adjust your left-handed mousing motions accordingly.

It definitely took me longer to get used to clicking with my middle finger than it did to grow accustomed to using a mouse with my non-dominant hand. The RSI symptoms disappeared within a week. In addition to left-handed mousing, I try to keep my right arm hung slack whenever possible to relieve shoulder tension.

And as always, I'll recommend installing Workrave to remind you to get up, rest, and stretch. It's simple, free, and awesome.
posted by divined by radio at 8:39 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I've been mousing with my left hand and a standard mouse for years due to RSI. My mouse buttons are set to left-hand use (so right-click is the left mouse button). I didn't find it difficult to get used to at all, maybe 3-4 days of awkwardness. I've found it to be more efficient in the long run because it frees my dominant hand to do things like key on the number pad and take notes.
posted by weebil at 8:42 AM on August 6, 2014

I switched a few years ago for a similar reason, and had little difficulty adapting. Mousing with the left hand now seems natural to me, even though I am strongly right-handed.

The only tricky part is finding a mouse that can be operated with either hand. Some "ergonomic" mice are clearly designed for right-handed use.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 8:43 AM on August 6, 2014

Best answer: I'm yet another mous-idextrous person, even though my right hand is very dominant otherwise. I use a regular cheap-o non-ergonomic mouse because it fits both hands. I swap the buttons when I change sides, otherwise I get confused about which button I need to click. This way the-button-closer-to-the-keyboard is always "primary click" (ie. "left click").

It took me a couple of days to get used to it and another week or two for it to become effortless, but nowadays I switch every couple of weeks and can't tell the difference.
posted by gakiko at 8:50 AM on August 6, 2014

I am also bi-mousual. Although I tend to use the right hand more, I use it righty with the left handed mouse buttons (switched). I think using it with the buttons set for a lefty with my right hand has helped a little, but using it lefty has certainly taken some strain off of my right arm. Learning to use left hand was relatively quick for me, but I am somewhat ambidextrous already as I use a fork lefty (my mom was a lefty), I can throw lefty, but I write righty and do most all things righty.

To learn to use the mouse lefty, I spent a Saturday playing solitaire and other mouse games that required constant use and different mousing skills.
posted by 724A at 8:52 AM on August 6, 2014

I will add this note to the proceedings, since this thread reminded me I've had my mouse right-handed for way too long, and I switched it back:

I always end up feeling weird and nauseated when I switch to mousing with my left hand after a long period of mousing with my right hand. I even AskMe-d about it.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:56 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I switched about 6 or 7 years ago, and it took me a day or two. I used to switch the mouse buttons when I moved the mouse to make switching back and forth easier, but now I just have two mice, one on each side, and switch throughout the day without switching the buttons.
posted by fimbulvetr at 9:03 AM on August 6, 2014

I switched from right-hand to left-hand mousing because that was the way my new office desk was laid out. I had no problem at all and made the switch instantly.
I mouse right-handed at home.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:07 AM on August 6, 2014

It would be nearly impossible for me to switch mouse hands. Not only would I have to re-train my left hand to mouse, I'd have to re-learn (for my right hand) all the key-combos I use in my production software.

But, I got one of these, and that has done a lot to alleviate any RSI symptoms in my right hand. YMMV, of course.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:22 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: About four months, I think. Though I also switched to an ambidextrous trackball.

I had a very serious RSI and what helped me more than new equipment was physical therapy followed by consistent strength training. YMMV.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:33 AM on August 6, 2014

I switched mouse-hands, but it took weeks because of how dominant my dominant hand is. It totally solved my RSI problem. The thing that helped me switch was Solitaire with the non-dominant hand. Lots of clicking, double-clicking, clicking-and-dragging...
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 9:44 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I broke my right arm at age 11 -- greenstick fracture so I was only in a cast for 3 weeks. I did everything left-handed for those three weeks. I have been a tad confused every since and I use my left hand more readily than most righties. I also have a history of tendon and ligament problems in my right hand/arm/shoulder from a sports injury in college. When it was really bad, I switched to left-mousing. I was slower when I left-moused but, given that the alternative was being unable to do a damn thing, slow was okay with me. I still sometimes switch over if I have some reason to, though my tendon problems have improved so I generally right-mouse these days.

Alternative that might give you an option:

My younger son got started on the computer when he was like 3 years old. Mousing was super hard for him because his whole forearm was not much bigger than my hand so mousing involved massive arm movements from the shoulder for him. We had a tracker ball mouse at the time. One day, I came in to find him with the mouse laying upside down in his lap and him navigating Reader Rabbit just fine.

So, if you have a tracker ball mouse (instead of laser), you can turn the mouse upside down in your lap and manipulate the ball with your thumb. That might give you some relief without having to learn to be a lefty if being a lefty is just too freaking hard to cope with.
posted by Michele in California at 9:49 AM on August 6, 2014

I switched my mouse hand (right to left) and though I got used to the switched buttons after a day, I found actual movement amazingly tedious thanks to the lower arm effort required. But my right hand felt immediate relief from impending RSI symptoms. So I stuck with the left hand and got a trackball mouse instead. It requires more fine motor control but I got used to it after two weeks and I no longer want to chop off my right hand after a day's work.
posted by rebooter at 10:17 AM on August 6, 2014

I had wrist surgery on my (right, non-dominant) mouse hand, and switched to an Apple Magic Trackpad (for my left, dominant hand) in the interim. It's been mostly seamless, once I figured out that the 'drag' gesture uses 3 fingers.

I prefer the magic trackpad now: I can do so much more with it than a standard mouse, and it's much more comfortable to use.

  • I don't do tons of mousing: I've always used keyboard shortcuts extensively
  • text selection is still a bit of a pain in the butt (I'm a coder), but I try to use keyboard shortcuts for that anyway
  • The Magic Trackpad works brilliantly on MacOS, but I'm not sure how well linux/windows supports multitouch gestures.

posted by homodachi at 10:30 AM on August 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I did it without a problem. I don't switch the mouse buttons.
posted by AlexiaSky at 11:10 AM on August 6, 2014

I've gone back and forth over various times in my life. At least in windows, switching the mouse button is super easy. Never had a problem

Also, thumb trackballs like this guy have helped me when I've had RSI symptoms.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:18 AM on August 6, 2014

Best answer: I use autocad all day at work, and switched to the left for a while due to the same type of reasons. The first day it was really annoying, but after a week or so I was mostly used to it. I would switch back sometimes to get something drawn faster, but ended up using it mostly left handed until my wrist healed. I am back to the right side again now for a year or so but know that I always have the option of going back and it only takes a few minutes to get used to it again. I didn't change the buttons either when I switched. Definitely will be easier than you think, stick with it for more than a day and it will become normal after a few days.
posted by photoexplorer at 12:41 PM on August 6, 2014

Also, just want to add one more thing about mouse posture. I never got a better ergonomic mouse, maybe that would have helped, but I did notice one thing that was awkward about when I use the mouse. Sometimes because of the width of my keyboard, the mouse ended up being too far to the right and when I keep my elbow in, it was creating an uncomfortable posture for my arm & shoulder. (I had wrist and shoulder and elbow pain.) I now try to keep my elbow out a bit more from my body so that it is more in line with my wrist. Seems to help me a lot.
posted by photoexplorer at 12:45 PM on August 6, 2014

Another ambi-mousetrous person. I once worked for the telephone company and was trained to hold the phone in my left hand and take notes with my right hand. Perhaps giving left hand a job prepared me for mouse switching. When my arm starts to twinge, I switch the mouse and pad over to the other side. It is not much of an adjustment since I do it every now and then. The biggest problem is moving enough papers, files, books, etc., to make room for the mouse pad.
posted by Cranberry at 1:09 PM on August 6, 2014

I know that this isn't what you asked, but: you can alleviate a lot of strain on your wrists by using keyboard shortcuts instead of the mouse. I don't know what type of computer work you do, but most programs that I work with have keyboard shortcuts for almost every action. It takes a little while to learn them (maybe print out a cheat-sheet for the first little while) but once you know them, it's actually faster because you don't have to switch to the mouse.
posted by number9dream at 1:48 PM on August 6, 2014

I hope this is not considered a derail, but I'm interested in the question too, and would like to know about a specific implication of it:

Unless I'm actually typing, my default is the right hand on the mouse, and the left hand on the "left hand home" - i.e. "a s d f". That second part is very important to me - I use the mouse and the keyboard in conjunction with each other tremendously and often. It so happens that many standard menus can be easily opened via the left hand - "Alt-F" for "File", "Alt-E" for "Edit", etc., and also you have easy access to common GUI control keys like the Tab key and the Esc key. It seems to me that switching my mouse to my left hand, and keeping my right hand on the "right hand home" ("j k l ;"), would not be nearly as useful, and I would very frequently be thrashing my left hand between mouse and keyboard, significantly cutting down on my ease of use - even if I were as good with my left hand as I am with my right.

Did anyone who has made this switch operated in the way I described before making it? And relied upon it heavily? Was the switch as bad as I'm imagining, from this point of view?
posted by Flunkie at 1:52 PM on August 6, 2014

Best answer: It only took me a few weeks of full workday use to switch to my left hand when I was suffering from tendonitis and rotator cuff issues stemming from RSI and a car accident. I bought one of these ergonomic 3M joystick mouses for my right hand, and switched the standard mouse over to the left side of the keyboard. So I had a mouse on each side to use so I could swap out regularly. It took a LOT of patience (I wore wrist guards and other compression gear which made it extra frustrating), but it was well worth it. I definitely wasted a lot less time browsing the web, quickly noticed poor UI/UX issues when it came to software and web applications, and was really intentional/concise with my words. So there are added benefits to reap. After a while, my left side started aching too and developing RSI problems because it wasn't used to the usage and I didn't keep good posture so there was a lot of misaligned compensation going on. So be careful -- be sure to stretch regularly and do strength boosting exercises.

Also, I highly suggest trigger point self- therapy -- I found random, unexpected tension spots along my arm that incredibly helped alleviate pain along the wrist/elbow/shoulder.

Good luck!
posted by doctordrey at 5:08 PM on August 6, 2014

One possible outcome is serious RSI in the left arm as well. Ask me how I know. Seconding exercise therapy. Be careful!
posted by bleston hamilton station at 1:34 AM on August 7, 2014

For what it's worth, I switched to using a Magic Trackpad after a lot of mouse-work started making my wrist flare up. It's worked like a dream, mainly because it removes a lot of the weird wrist-bending I used to do. It's weird at first, but I actually find it very precise and natural now.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:55 AM on August 7, 2014

Response by poster: I stuck with the left handed mousing and it took only two weeks to sink in, so I think it was worth the initial distress. I also eventually got the evoluent vertical mouse for my left hand and love it.
posted by NikitaNikita at 3:29 PM on December 29, 2014 [3 favorites]

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