How to Use a Mouse

It never ceases to amaze me how many people use a computer mouse for hours on end, but have never taken the time to consider whether their mousing technique is safe. On the other hand, proper keyboard usage is common knowledge. Most elementary schools teach typing, for example , but don’t spend any time on proper mousing technique.

It could be that the mouse is a relatively new invention. The QWERTY keyboard was designed with typewriter use in mind. Consequently, it is actually an incredibly inefficient layout for typing, but that’s another story. The mouse, on the other hand, was invented in the late 1960’s and was an invention purely of the digital age. Maybe our education system just needs some time to catch up with the times…

Poor Mouse Usage is a Problem

In any event, poor mouse usage is a major problem. Hundreds of thousands of workers compensations claims are filed every year due to injuries related to mouse usage. Indeed, using a mouse improperly will put your wrist through the ringer. One study found that computer users “spent 34% of the time working inulnar deviation between 15°-30° and 30% of the time working in ulnar deviation greaterthan 30°compared with only 2% and 0% respectively during non-mouse use.”

ulnar deviation

Ulnar deviation measures wrist movement in the horizontal plane

Ulnar deviation is a measurement of wrist angle in the horizontal plane. Wrist extension is a measurement of wrist angle in the vertical plane. It is clear that using a mouse does some weird stuff to your wrist that it would not do naturally. Poor mouse usage can exacerbate things and that can lead to injury.

Wrist Extension

Wrist extension measures wrist movement in the vertical plane

Proper Mouse Usage

So what does proper mouse usage look like?

Well, according to most experts, resting your wrists on anything is a bad idea. That means you should probably throw away that mouse pad of yours with the fancy wrist rest. It’s not so much that the rest itself is bad. Resting your wrists while not using the mouse is fine.

Instead, the problem occurs when you are actively using the mouse and resting your wrist at the same time. Doing so means that your wrist become the fulcrum for all mouse movement. As a result, you’re more likely to put your wrist into a position of extreme ulnar deviation.

Poor mouse usage

Try to avoid resting your wrist on your mouse pad

You might also consider putting the mouse as close to the edge of your desk as possible, thereby eliminating the temptation to mouse from the wrist.

Another solution is to use a larger mouse. If the mouse is large enough to fit your entire hand, then it is no longer necessary to rest your wrist at all. Instead, you can “rest” your hand on the mouse and still mouse with your entire arm.

Ergonomic Mice

Since it’s boxy first iteration in the 80’s, the mouse has evolved dramatically into the many ergonomic mice available on the market today. Most ergonomic mice focus on minimizing ulnar deviation by changing the plan of movement to keep the wrist more vertical. Others focus on providing better support to the hand and wrist, thereby discouraging mousing from the wrist. In any case, you might want to check out our roundup of the best ergonomic mice in order to pick one out that suits your needs.

The Future

With the proliferation of touch interfaces and other new computer interaction devices, it will surely be interesting to see if the mouse even exists 20 or so years from now. For now, though, it looks like we will be living with the mouse for the foreseeable future.

Have you tried out an ergonomic mouse or a different mouse interface? How have you dealt with wrist pain from mouse usage?


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