The Great Big Guide To Ergonomic Mice

Since publishing our keyboard guide, I have long intended to create a matching resource on the pointing device side of things. Like the keyboard guide, this is more focused on breadth than depth. Products I haven’t tried are included, with each being clearly indicated as such.

ALTE mouse guide montage

If you know what you’re looking for, feel free to jump to the right section:

What makes a mouse ergonomic?

If there were a device to measure the objective ergonomic benefit of a particular computer peripheral, choosing the one for you would be easy. You could simply look for the highest “ergonomic index” available, buy that, and ignore everything else. But of course this won’t work, because there is no objective standard of “ergonomicness,” anymore then there is an objective standard of comfort for shoes (or an actual English word “ergonomicness,” for that matter). Different things work for different people, and that principle is not going to change anytime soon. Your job is not to figure out what works for most people; it’s to figure out what works for you. But in doing that, it’s also helpful to have a basic understanding of the most common factors affecting user comfort.

Wrist movement

Many ergonomic mice are designed with the idea of reducing wrist movement. The reasoning behind this, while not shared by everyone, is simple: bending your wrist is what tends to deform the channels through which nerves run, so if you can stop bending your wrist, you are less likely to impinge a nerve. It’s the same reason that people wear braces for carpal tunnel syndrome. (Not that braces are necessarily a good solution, but now we’re getting into medical territory.)

While I don’t know of an ergonomic mouse that comes with a brace to keep your wrist straight, many are designed to produce a sort of “invisible brace.” If a mouse is made large enough and shaped correctly, it becomes easier to control by moving your arm than by bending your wrist.

Quill mouse (AirObic mouse, Aerobic mouse) in use by reviewer

The Airobic is an example of a large mouse designed to be moved with your whole arm. Precise motions are difficult – but so is the “wrist flick” often blamed for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Precision

When the focus is on reducing wrist movement, one thing typically goes overboard: precision. While your arm is big and powerful, it is not made for doing precise tasks. For example, imagine trying to write with your arm in a cast from fingers to elbow. You could probably do it, but only in very big letters. It’s the same with mouse control. You can accomplish quite a bit using the large muscles of your arms, but you may struggle with precise tasks like pixel-perfect work in Photoshop. If your work involves many such tasks, you may prefer an ergonomic mouse design that reduces wrist movement the other way – by transferring the load to your fingers.

Pronation

Most ergonomic mice make an effort to get your palm out of the horizontal plane. Some go entirely vertical; others, like the Rockstick shown here, choose a compromise angle.

Most ergonomic mice make an effort to get your palm out of the horizontal plane. Some go entirely vertical; others, like the Rockstick shown here, choose a compromise angle.

To understand pronation, sit down in front of a desk or table about elbow height, and lay your hands comfortably on the table in front of you. Now look at your hands. If they are totally flat, with palms straight out on the table, then you are either a very unusually shaped person, or else you didn’t really relax. Because of the way the human body is built, it requires effort to flatten your palm in a downward position. This effort isn’t very large, but the strain can build up significantly over time if you use a mouse that puts your palm straight down.

At the other end of the spectrum from pronation is the vertical mouse position. While putting your hand at 90 degrees gets it as far as possible from total┬ápronation, it must be noted that straight vertical is not the most natural and comfortable position for most people either. Rather, the hands of most users will land somewhere between zero and 90 degrees when relaxed. Different mouse manufacturers choose different angles to proclaim the “most natural.” If you can’t decide which is right, you’ll be glad to know that at least one (Oyster) makes the angle adjustable.

Okay, enough theory. Let’s look at some products.

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2 Comments

  1. Beth
    Posted November 13, 2016 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    I need some help. I have a connective tissue disorder, it makes all of my joints hyperextend, rotate, and worst of all, hurt. My EHS department is working on setting up my office to be as ergonomic as possible. New desk, new chair, special keyboard tray that comes out and up, etc. but we seem to be stuck on a mouse device.

    I have recurring tendinitis in my elbow, partly from constantly moving my hand from the keyboard to the mouse and moving the mouse around (having two monitors doesn’t help!). I’ve tried trackballs, they aren’t good for my arthritic fingers that dislocate if you breathe on them. I have never liked track pads, especially for a dual monitor setup. The roller mouse I’m just not sure on, having no experience with it.

    You know what I do love? That little rubber nubby thing in the center of my laptop’s keyboard. No moving off the keyboard. No moving my arm around. No twirling my fingers around a ball. Just rocking the tip of my finger to go where I need. It’s perfection. But no one seems to make a standalone keyboard with one, and with what I do, I can’t live with working on a laptop (not to mention the cruddy keys!). I have a comfort wave keyboard, and I am very, very happy with it.

    So…what would you recommend? I do a huge variety of things on my computer, from the basic things to Access databases to photoshop/InDesign work, and I constantly have two things, if not three or four, going on both monitors.

    • Jason
      Posted November 14, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      That’s definitely a tough situation you’ve got there, with severe problem in both your fingers and elbows. If it was only one of those, I could recommend a solution that transfers more of the load to the other.

      My first instinct is to suggest trying a RollerMouse. Keep in mind, however, that it won’t work well with your Comfort Wave keyboard, or with any keyboard that has a built-in palm rest. If you’d like to chat further, you can email me directly: jason (at) all things ergo (dot) com.

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  • About The Blogger

    Jason, the All Things Ergo bloggerI'm Jason, a user of many ergonomic devices by necessity and choice. I'm also a partner in a business that operates a number of commercial enterprises, including All Things Ergo.

    I have no particular training or expertise in the area of ergonomics. My views are based on my own personal experience, and what works for me won't necessarily work for you.