When the mouse was first introduced, it was designed to make computer software easier to use -- instead of memorizing key combinations, all you had to do was point and click. Software designers embraced this concept, and mouse-driven programs multiplied.
However, when you look at the risk factors for repetitive strain injuries – usually a combination of repetition, force, awkward positioning and poor technique – several problems become obvious.
Consider repetition. With the mouse, you repeatedly use one hand to position, click and drag the cursor. The keyboard lets you distribute the work between two hands, relieving the burden on the dominant hand. Not only does the mouse overwork the dominant hand; it also overworks the click finger. Instead of using both hands, the index finger of one hand usually does all the work. To compound the problem, many people use far more force than necessary to click. In addition to using your dominant hand for many hours at the computer, you use this hand for a multitude of daily tasks, such as writing, opening doors and brushing your teeth. All this adds up. You begin to appreciate just how much you depend on your dominant hand when it becomes painful to use a touch-tone phone or punch your code into the automatic teller machine.
Then there is the design of the mouse, which fits more or less into the hollow of the hand. Many people plant their wrists and forearms on the desk while they position the cursor with waves of the wrist. This action bends the wrist upward and sideways at the same time, placing a tremendous strain on the forearm muscles. Also, instead of allowing you to instinctively use the powerful muscles in your back and shoulder – as typewriters do – the mouse encourages you to rely on the delicate muscles in your fingers and forearms.
Finally, mice can be very hard to control. Sometimes the cursor skates off the screen and you have to hold the click button down while you lift and reposition the mouse. When this happens, you tend to grip the mouse, thereby straining the muscles in your arm. You can use good technique to help position the mouse, but you are still faced with the click and drag. A foot pedal can help with the click – but remember to alternate feet when you pedal and pay attention to signs of leg strain.
Are trackballs any safer? The answer is no. A trackball, like a mouse, puts the hand in an awkward position, and requires the use of the dominant hand and thumb. You also tend to flatten, rather than curve, your fingers when using a trackball, and this contraction of the muscles can lead to forearm strain.
As you can see, mice and trackballs should be used very carefully. Here are some pointers:
If you have a choice, use a keyboard. The computer keyboard isn't perfect, but it is easier to use good technique with a keyboard than a mouse, and it allows you to distribute the work between two hands and ten fingers. Whenever possible, use key commands instead of the mouse. Memorizing common commands is easy if you use them all the time.
If you use a mouse, practice good technique. When you click, drag and circle the mouse over and over again, proper technique, good posture and frequent stretch breaks are critical. Remember:
Be smart about your computing. One man associated the onset of his injury with an upsurge in computer use because of the hours he was spending on the Internet. He later realized that he could phone people rather than answering e-mail by computer. Think about your priorities, and save your hands for essential tasks.
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IF YOU HAVE THE SYMPTOMS OR WARNING SIGNS OF RSI, SEE A COMPETENT PHYSICIAN IMMEDIATELY.
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