According to statistics, carpal tunnel syndrome accounts for 32.5% of all repetitive motion injuries in the workplace. The biggest culprit at the office? The trusted mouse (and other pointing devices such as the trackpad).
Improper handling of a mouse over time can lead to various injuries in your fingers, wrist, and even shoulders. In this post, I’ll dive into all you need to know about properly holding a mouse to reduce the chances of developing MSDs.
The Most Ergonomic Way to Hold your Mouse
The best way to hold your mouse is such that awkward postures and repeated stress on any one area of your fingers, wrist and arm are minimized. In ergonomics, awkward postures refer to unnatural body positions such as bending, twisting, and overreaching.
With that said, the following are the most important things to keep in mind:
1. Avoid Gripping Your Mouse
One of the most important tips when holding a mouse is to make sure you’re not gripping it. This often happens if your mouse isn’t the right size for your hands, or you’re a power mouse user that requires extra agility or responsiveness from your fingers, such as gamers. Gripping overtime can damage the nerves and ligaments in the fingers.
To ensure you’re not gripping the mouse, take a look at your hand right now as it rests on the mouse. Make sure that it’s not just the fingers that are fully resting on the mouse, but the palm of your hand as well. The entire hand should feel weightless and supported on the mouse. Check that you’re not subconsciously tensing your pinky or thumb to keep them from sliding off the mouse.
2. Position your Mouse within Reach
Another important tip is to ensure that you’re not overreaching to use the mouse. Specifically, check that your operating elbow is within 90 – 100 degrees at all times, with the mouse positioned close to the keyboard. If you find this difficult, take advantage of a keyboard and mouse tray..
Frequent overreaching can lead to stress and injuries in the operating arm and shoulder.
3. Avoid Excessive Windshield Motions
The human wrist is packed with blood vessels, tendons and nerves that can be agitated from using a mouse, leading to wrist pain and even CTS over time. The constant “windshield” portion of pushing the mouse cursor in particular can be especially damaging.
When operating a mouse, try to minimize any excessive ulnar and radial deviation of the wrist (right and left windshield motions). This can be done by:
- Increasing the sensitivity of your mouse (DPI) slightly (but not too much) so smaller movements of the mouse lead to the same amount of cursor travel as before.
- Taking frequent breaks and performing hand and wrist exercises daily.
- Learning to maneuver the mouse by pivoting at the elbow and keeping the wrist relatively stationary.
- Switch to a trackball mouse that doesn’t involve use of the wrist during operation.
4. Pick the Right Sized Mouse for your Hand
A lot of the problems with mouse posture happens when a mouse is either too small or big for your hands.
A mouse is too small for you when a good portion of your palm is not cradled by the mouse once your fingers are properly aligned with the buttons as you hold it.
Conversely, you know a mouse is too big when the edge of the mouse starts touching your wrist once everything else is in alignment.
An improperly sized mouse creates tension in various parts of your hands as you adjust your fingers to operate it.
How Should I Hold a Mouse to Avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
For people who exhibit the early signs of CTS (or are concerned about developing it), the best way to hold a mouse is in a handshake position. This is the neutral “resting” wrist position for most people where no major forearm muscles are engaged to maintain the posture, with minimal wrist rotation that can compress the carpal tunnel and lead to inflammation.
To assume a handshake position with your mouse, use a vertical mouse that comes with a moderate or aggressive slope on the side supporting your fingers. Your soft underside of your wrist should be off the desk surface when you are holding the mouse:
Types of Mouse Grips
In general there are three types of mouse grips most of us use when holding a mouse:
The Palm Grip
The palm grip is the most ergonomic grip for holding your mouse, though at the expense of decreased mouse agility. Essentially, your fingers and palm are fully rested on the mouse with minimal stress on any one part of the hand.
The Claw Grip
In a claw grip, only part of the palm is resting on the mouse, with the emphasis being on the fingers. The knuckles are slightly raised, giving off a “claw-like” appearance. This style of grip is common for people that need to rapidly move the mouse across the screen with precision. With the weight of the hand partially in suspension, this is easier to do with the claw grip.
The claw grip is popular with many gamers.
The Fingertip Grip
This style of grip is common for bigger-handed individuals who may struggle to rest their full palm on the mouse. In this grip, only the fingertips are touching the mouse. This grip allows for very quick movements, though the hand tires easily as well.
If you find yourself using the fingertip grip, this is an indication that your mouse is either too small for you, or too flat.