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A Comprehensive Guide to Alterna ...

Posted Dec 13 2008 11:36pm

A Comprehensive Guide to Alternative Ergonomic Mice

Wednesday, October 31, 2007 17:29

Why does a standard mouse hurt so many people? To answer this question, let’s take a look at how the mouse forces us to sit, and why that’s unnatural — then I’ll give a list of some of the alternative choices you have (to get to the list fast, click the More! button).

First, reach for your mouse. Then take a look at your wrist and hands. Is your forearm in a straight line or at an angle to your fingers? Are you leaning your wrist on the desk and lifting your fingers up for the mouse? Is your shoulder relaxed, or are you trying to hold your elbow up unnaturally?

All of these little posture changes seem small, but over the 8 or more hours a day you spend at a desk, they add up to big stresses on your body, which builds up to injury and pain over the long haul. Tension anywhere in your arm, from your wrists to your shoulder and neck, can cut off some of your circulation, meaning that the materials your body needs to stay healthy get cut off too. Inflammation can build up in a stressed-out area of your body, and you need the oxygen and building blocks available in your bloodstream to wash that gunk away and bring in new materials like vitamins and minerals to help heal the injury.

Those odd angles you sit in, combined with built up inflammation, can also pinch your nerves. You will know if you’re having nerve problems, because you’ll start to feel a tingling sensation or frequent numbness. Your arms might fall asleep easily, even when you’re not at the computer. This is sometimes a symptom of Carpal Tunnel, but it could come from other places in your arm too.

Standard mice also make you twist your arm in a strange way. If you stand up and hold your arms at your sides, you’ll notice that your palms rest against your thighs — but if you reach for the mouse, you have to twist your palm down to reach the buttons and move it around. This twisted posture is called ulnar deviation, because you are deviating your ulnar bone away from the natural posture. This puts extra stresses on your arm and shoulder over time, especially if you don’t stretch regularly.

Most of the ergonomic choices below try to address this problem, by allowing you to rest your arm in a more natural posture.

Mostly-Standard Mice

These are mice with slight ergonomic improvements, but they still have buttons or scrollbars like a standard mouse.

  • Slanted Mice — This is an example of a mostly-standard mouse that is slightly twisted to allow your arm a more natural posture, and slightly alleviate your ulnar deviation. This style doesn’t really solve the problem of reaching for the mouse or twisting your arm, but if you only have a slight problem, it may be all you need. This is a version by Logitech; Microsoft and other vendors make similar mice, with more or fewer buttons, and more or less of a rest for your thumb. Many of them are designed with gamers in mind and have a lot of extra buttons you don’t need, as well as features like laser technology that quickly hike up the price. They’re usually available at office supply shops like Fry’s Electronics, Office Depot or others, so go and hold them a while, practice clicking, and see how they feel before you buy.

Mini Review: I use the Logitech one (corded and optical, not laser) at home. It’s better than a standard mouse but doesn’t do all that much for me. One drawback is you can’t switch hands, but there are left-handed versions available.

  • Whale Mouse — much like a standard mouse, two buttons and a scrollbar, but it has a rest for the thumb and pinky on the sides, and a built in wrist rest.

Trackball mice

  • Logitech TrackMan and Marble mice – These offer large trackballs for easy movement and a large footprint to let you rest your hand comfortably on them. The Trackman is slanted for right-handed users; the Marble mouse can be used with either hand.

Mini Review: I have used the Marble mouse the past few months at work, and I like it pretty well. One of my favorite mice so far. I was reluctant to try these styles because they’re so big, but the large size is actually a benefit — it lets me rest my hand on the mouse and helps put it in a more natural position. The large buttons also make it easy to click with my whole finger rather than making me scrunch my knuckles…plus the neutral position lets me switch between left and right handed mousing, which I like to do frequently. It’s not perfect and I still get mouse pain sometimes, but I would personally recommend this mouse as a good alternative to a standard.

  • Kensington’s Optical Trackball –Much like Logitech’s but slightly different shaped.
  • Perific Mouse – This one is flexible and could go in multiple categories — a wireless mouse with a hand grip/trackball so you can use it in your lap, or you can move it around on the desk like a standard mouse. Interesting idea.

Vertical mice

Vertical mice aim to eliminate the tilted arm posture (ulnar deviation) you need to use a standard mouse, and put your arm back into a neutral position that doesn’t stain the arm.

  • Evoluent Vertical mouse — The vertical mouse resolves the problem of ulnar deviaton and lets you mouse in a more natural posture. Also the buttons are highly customizable.

Mini Review: Purchased for me at a previous job, I used the Evoluent Vertical mouse for several months. Overall I really liked it. It was comfortable, I loved the customization features and extra buttons. However, it was a little too big for my hand. It would be great with a trackball but instead functions like a standard mouse, meaning you have to drag it around near the keyboard, and that’s difficult because it has a large footprint. Also, it requires you to pinch it a little in order to click or drag it around, which some people say causes them thumb pain. I didn’t experience this, though, and I’d recommend this mouse (or its left-handed counterpart) to anyone who has an avg sized or large hand. Just don’t forget to get a wrist rest with it — that’s almost essential.

  • Aerobic Quill mouse — another vertical mouse, and this one is built with a rest for the hand.
  • Zero-Tension Mouse — This is another vertical mouse made of some gel material that is supposedly easier on the hands, requiring less grip. It’s also available in multiple sizes.

That sums up many of the mice I’ve seen on the market, but it doesn’t get into some of the alternatives you can use that perform similar functions but are less mouse-like — from joysticks, remote controllers and trackpads, to devices that track your head movements. I’ll cover those in the next installment.

If you use another kind of mouse not listed here, and find it helpful, write a comment and let us know!

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