International RSI Awareness Day 2007

Today is the last day of February 2007, which means today is the annual international RSI (repetitive strain injury) Awareness Day. I can’t find any “official” website for it, but here are a few links to more information:

In honour of this day I want to share a tip for avoiding, or at least reducing the risk of, getting a computer mouse-related RSI:

Don’t place your mouse next to your keyboard. Place it in front of your keyboard instead, and rotate it 90 degrees clockwise if you’re left handed, 90 degrees anti-clockwise if you’re right handed. It feels a bit awkward at first, but after a few days you will be used to it and wonder how you could ever work (or play) with the mouse in that awkward position next to your keyboard.

I used to have problems with my right hand and arm, but changing the location of my mouse worked wonders.

Got any other good tips for improving ergonomics to avoid RSI?

Update: Here’s a simple illustration of my keyboard/mouse arrangement (I am right handed):

Mouse positioned in front of keyboard at a 75 degree angle

I realised as I made this illustration that the angle is closer to 75 degrees than 90. The idea is to reduce the distance you move your arm when switching from mouse to keyboard and to let your arms rest on the table.

Posted on February 28, 2007 in Accessibility, Ergonomics, Quicklinks, Usability

Comments

  1. Could you post a picture of this tip? As it is, my cables are getting muddled. Cheers!

  2. In front? Never heard of that before. But I will give it a try…

    And I’ve the same problem as Neil, perhaps it’s time for a wireless mouse.

  3. or get this mouse http://www.evoluent.com/vm3.html

    works perfectly with a mac too :)

  4. March 1, 2007 by Mathieu Bonnet

    For the mouse in front of they keyboard tip, I might try it, but there are two problems: first, I often have documents or paper to write on, in front of my keyboard, so no room for the mouse, and, second, having things in front of your keyboard means you might get tempted to push your keyboard too far, meaning you will kill your back ^_^; (RSI or back pain, you choose…? :P)

  5. Wow. I’ve been putting my mouse in front of my keyboard since I started using laptops, a la the trackpad. I just found it to make more sense to slide my hand down from the homerow position to the mouse and back, rather than reach to the right. I’ve never seen this suggested anywhere else.

  6. I second Mr. Kern’s comments about the vertical mouse. I just got a second one for the office and all the pain is gone. Makes the $60 price tag worth every penny.

  7. When I had problems with RSI before, I got a trackball and a gel mouse pad (you know the one with a bump that goes under your wrist). Now I find I don’t need the trackball as well, the padded pad does fine.

  8. Abandon the mouse and go for the pen.

  9. Besides the obvious: “take frequent breaks”, the best RSI prevention you can do is to switch from using a mouse to using a tablet. It takes a little while to get used to using a tablet for everything, but it works.

    I used to have the double whammy of RSI from using a mouse as well as musician’s arm and it wasn’t until I switched to using a tablet that my injury got better.

  10. Don’t use your mouse, use your keyboard whenever it’s possible. There are many apps that let you assign keyboard shortcuts for repetitive tasks, like Spark and TextExpander .

  11. March 1, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Neil:

    Could you post a picture of this tip?

    I’ll see if I can find a few minutes to make a quick sketch.

    Mathieu:

    I often have documents or paper to write on, in front of my keyboard, so no room for the mouse

    I put those papers next to my keyboard instead.

    having things in front of your keyboard means you might get tempted to push your keyboard too far

    I find that it puts my keyboard at just the right distance.

    John:

    I got a trackball and a gel mouse pad (you know the one with a bump that goes under your wrist).

    I tried those mouse pads, and they do not work for me. If anything they really make my wrist ache.

    Brendan:

    Abandon the mouse and go for the pen.

    Yep, I’ve tried that. Didn’t work for me.

    Vasilis:

    Don’t use your mouse, use your keyboard whenever it’s possible

    Absolutely. It’s very hard to get by completely without a mouse though, especially when playing games ;-).

  12. Thank you for the tip!

    I am also have RSI since last summer. I was experimenting and had found some rules that makes my life a little better:

    1) Form of the mouse must be simple. I prefer Pleomax Dolphin Mouse. But inexpensive (sic!) mouses from Microsoft and Logitech can be good enough. I hate what they called “GAMERS” mouses. I hate mouses with “ergonomic” forms. Form must be SIMPLE, not “ergonomic”.

    2) Volito pen for PC makes your hand fell better. But 3 things: You can not play games. You will start working at the office a little slowly (it is not critical though, I hope). Tip of the pen is not everlasting and it is grinding off faster than you think (so use it anywhere except Photoshop and Illustrator is not very good).

    By the way, Roger, what games you prefer? :-) I thought you do not have time fot that. So I am surprised.

  13. I use a neat bit of software called Workrave (available for Windows and Linux; Mac users should check out the excellent AntiRSI) which schedules in and enforces micro-breaks and screen breaks.

    It even plays animations during the screen breaks instructing you about exercises to combat RSI.

  14. March 1, 2007 by Boris

    About Roger’s tip: once I noticed how our graphic designer was holding his mouse while working. Guess what? He placed it in front of his keyboard holding it 90 degrees anti-clockwise with his elbow lying on the table.

    I thought it was a funny way to hold a mouse.

    But when I got back to my workplace I just tried the same thing. Man, that really saved my arm!

    Yes, there might be some problems with wires, free space or something, but you just have to give it a try.

    Sure it’s not a panacea for everyone, but someone will be nicely surprised.

  15. That vertical mouse looks cool, but I object to being fined $30 for being left handed.

    I’ve had occasional periods of wrist pain (not full-blown RSI, thank goodness), I’ve dealt with them by wearing a tubigrip support bandage on my wrist and forearm to give it some extra support. That seems to sort it out in a week or two. Fortunately I’ve been pain-free for the last few years.

  16. Like Tim says, Workrave and Anti-RSI are very good.

    I use a PC at work and a Mac at home and developed ambidexterity to alleviate the strain.

    See here for more: http://neil-scott.com/against-nature

  17. March 1, 2007 by tripleshift

    i guess the key point of this issue is not really in the device used or the place (left, front, up or down) where the device is.

    roger’s tip works because by operating the mouse in front of his keyboard he (presumably) rests his whole forearm on the desk.

    boris hinted the crucial point is to lay the arm from elbow to wrist on the table and he’s right: once the forearm is on the table, everything is fine and little (in comparison) does the angle or the device used.

    i am tempted by the vertical mouse though.

    bye

  18. Seems to work for me, although now the right side of the keyboard is wrong! I don’t think the IT manager would be happy if I chopped it in half to rotate it about 30 degrees on the right, while the left side stays in place…

  19. Thanks to Roger and all others who shared their wisdom based on their experience so far.

    I don’t have RSI, however I want to take whatever precautions I could to prevent RSI.

    I have one question here - I have started my day today with this new positioning of the mouse (ie keeping it in front of the keyboard). Do I require any mouse pad? A padded mouse pad? (I tend not to use any mouse pad at work, at home I do have one with gel in it.)

    Many thanks.

  20. sorry If am stated the obvious but invest in a good chair that you can adjust everything and make sure you maintain lots of good 90 degree angles.

  21. March 1, 2007 by Nick

    I used to get terrible pains in my mouse arm, but I switched to a trackball and the pains cleared up within days. The only difficulty was finding a trackball that wasn’t designed with only right-handed users in mind (I’m a lefty)

    My Logitech Marble Mouse has been great for me for years now :)

  22. March 1, 2007 by Kris

    The HUGE difference for me has been switching to a Maltron keyboard. I can’t recommend this highly enough. I went from big wrist pain problems to none at all in a few months when I started using it. No, I don’t work for them ;)

  23. March 1, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    warmrobot:

    Form of the mouse must be simple.

    It depends. I absolutely cannot use the current Apple mice. The design they used before the horrible puck mouse they started shipping with the first iMac was great, but it only takes five minutes with the current design to make my wrist hurt badly.

    I currently use a Logitech G5 Laser Mouse at work and a Logitech Click! Optical Mouse at home.

    By the way, Roger, what games you prefer?

    Shooters like Quake 4, Doom 3, Call of Duty, Medal of Honor on the Mac. Single player only - multiplayer games tend to be too chaotic and random for me. I also have a PS 2 and an Xbox 360. Just finished Gears of War on the Xbox and now playing Final Fantasy 12 on the PS 2. Looking forward to the next Gran Turismo (which of course will make me buy a PS 3).

    jay:

    Do I require any mouse pad? A padded mouse pad?

    I use a regular flat mousepad out of habit and to get less friction against my desktop. I suppose that I don’t really need one, especially when I use the laser mouse.

  24. Are you sure about the 90 degrees? I always place the mouse in front of the keyboard if there is enough table space with a slight lean to the body but not anything near 90 degrees.

    Theoretically the arms should be relaxed and hover over the table you should hold your wrists straight, rather than bent up, down, or to the side and not have them touch the table.

    The head and back should form a straight line from the ears to the pelvis. The shoulders and head should not be hunched forward.

  25. I had some problems with RSI before I started using Workrave (it was mentioned before), it is great software to force breaks.

    I tried Rogers tip with the mouse, the only annoying thing is the mouse cord over my keyboard.

  26. I agree with using your keyboard as much as possible.

    I’ve just found a Mac application called Quicksilver, its a application launcher and more. I may be a bit behind the times so everyone else may already know about it but, I think its amazing.

    Have a read of this quicksilver quickstart guide. This app can save you so many clicks.

    Oh yeah, its free.

    Enjoy.

  27. Roger Johansson:

    I currently use a Logitech G5 Laser Mouse at work and a Logitech Click! Optical Mouse at home.

    Don’t khow about G5 (with weight cartridges, yep? ;-), but Logitech Click I can’t use surely because its buttons not covering all front top surface. So my fingers will stumbling against main shape. I hope you khow what I mean. Can’t explain better.

    And anyway (I hope everyone will agree to this): you must try your mouse with your hand, before you buy it. Not by the eyes, which telling you about “ergonomic form”. This is what I mean.

    Shooters like Quake 4, Doom 3, Call of Duty

    I asked, because I was playing much time Battlefield 2. But now thinking about BF2142. Let me khow, if you will play online. It is good ping from Russia to Sweden ;-)

    And about pad: I using it just because it seems to me that mouse is sliding easier on special cover (with no any built-in wrist rests. It is only hurts me with time).

  28. Switching to a wacom tablet solved all my RSI problems. And it’s really comfortable once you get the hang of it.

  29. March 1, 2007 by April

    I use a Logitech Marble Mouse, which puts my forearm very close to the “handshake” position recommended by Evoluent, along with a “SmartGlove” developed by a surgeon.

    The glove offers more targeted support than a gelpad, and has made a huge difference. I feel pain for days if I work just a couple of minutes without it, but am totally pain free if I wear it while working.

  30. I’m currently suffering for terrible and horrible pains in my right (mouse) arm and hand. I have a deep pain in my fingers, specially in the annular finger and along the forearm; even when I’m not using the computer, the pain continues during night and when I wake up, and also have the feel that my fingers are becoming weaker.

    What I can’t explain is why I have this pain since 2 years ago… because I have used computers since 16 years ago. Of course, now I’m using it not just for gaming but at work too. So, I’m using it many hours a day/week.

    Roger, many thanks for this post, and thanks to all the commenters too. I will re-read it and investigate more about all the mentioned tips, because I’m really desperate and wish to stop this pain as soon as possible.

    I will see if I can invest in that vertical mouse. I have read some users reviews and my symptoms are very similar to theirs.

    Finally, I have changed the mouse position to have it in front of the keyboard and turned it 90 degrees. ¡Great advice!

    Thanks again and excuse my english.

  31. RSI is no fun at all. I found a combination of physio (including light acupuncture, awesome - try it) and switching to a graphics tablet were great. Not for everyone of course.

    Plus I’ve been using ergo keyboards for years anyway. I’d really like an ergo keyboard with a detached number pad - it would get the mouse much closer to my natural arm position.

    Never quite got the hang of switching the mouse to my left hand, should try that again I guess.

  32. All I know is my wrists are KILLING me. They hurt regularly and now my elbows are starting to hurt. :-/

  33. I wish I could try that but the way my station is set up it’d be impossible. I get it, though, and I can understand why it’d be easier on the joints. Seems like the keyboard would have to be further away though so it I think that might cause strain of a different sort.

    One thing I find that’s important is the height of my chair. It affects how I sit and how I type; it determines the angle of my arms while keying, and the angle of my arm while using my mouse. That might be worth noting for those who can adjust their computing environment.

  34. March 3, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Robert:

    Are you sure about the 90 degrees?

    I updated the post with a simple illustration that shows how I have my keyboard and mouse arranged and realised that the angle is closer to 75 degrees.

    Mike:

    Seems like the keyboard would have to be further away though so it I think that might cause strain of a different sort.

    Not really - not for me anyway. I actually find that this puts my keyboard at a more comfortable distance.

  35. March 3, 2007 by Arpan

    I started having pain in my right wrist about a year ago. From the last six months, I’ve started using the mouse with the left hand, it took a while to get used to it, but now it works fine.

    I tried what you suggested about using the mouse in front of the keyboard, but my table’s too small. I’ll have to figure out something else.

  36. I am right handed, but I learned to operate the mouse with my left hand. This allows me to keep my right hand on the keyboard, close to all those very useful keys on the right side. This not only shares the work load on both wrists, but I can work more quickly also, by using the keyboard more.

    Learning to use my left hand was not difficult at all. I can even do some graphic work left handed.

  37. As part of optimizing my total office setup, I’m planning to buy adjustable furniture. The only flexdesk I’ve seen so far is Bene’s Lift Desk. Does anyone know of similar brands/desks?

  38. With regard to keyboards and typing; the key arrangement/layout can have a significant effect, more so than any “ergonomically shaped” keyboards which just move parts of the keyboard to different angles/positions.

    Like most people I used QWERTY for years. I suffered wrist fatigue and strain after only an hour or two of keyboard use. I would have to stop for a significant period of time, anywhere from half an hour to a couple of hours, which obviously was a serious interuption to my work.

    In the past I’ve tried “ergonomically shaped” QWERTY keyboards without much sucess. They didn’t really help in my experience as they were still, in essence, QWERTY keyboards - apparently QWERTY was designed to slow typists down from the days of typewriters when the arms would jam if the typing speed was too high.

    While looking for a better alternative to “ergonomically shaped” keyboards I discovered the Dvorak layout. After looking into the design of this layout I decided to switched because of the simple fact that it’s scientifically designed (based on Dr. Dvorak’s 10 years of research) for reduced finger/hand movement, comfort, better ballance of work over stronger fingers and more even use of each hand. Fingers staying on the home row much more, where the most commonly used keys were placed. The claim of increased speed also appealed to me, as I’ve wanted to be able to type as fast as i think for quite a while.

    I’ve been using the layout for about 6 months or so now, but I regained my QWERTY speed fairly quickly after switching. Fairly soon after I started using the Dvorak layout my wrist pain disapeared. Now I have no wrist discomfort at all, and my general comfort and speed is much improved even still using my existing “non-ergonomic” rectangular keyboard (with the layout changed in the operating system). I’m now able to type all day without any discomfort, and my overall typing speed has increased significantly compared to QWERTY, and I wasn’t exactly slow on QWERTY in the first place.

    I’ve since learned of the Developer’s Dvorak layout with better symbol layout for those writing code, and recently developed (2006) Colemak layout which is claimed to be much easier to learn than Dvorak.

    So for anyone who is still having problems even with “ergonomically shaped” keyboards I’d highly recommend Dvorak. For those that are at least interested in the concept of an alternate key layout to QWERTY, or looking for improved general comfort or speed I urge you to try Dvorak. I was skeptical before I switched, but now consider it a great investment considering the amout of time it’s saved me in improved typing speed alone.

  39. I was getting RSI right across the back of my mouse hand from endless clicking so I invested in a powerball gyroscope. After a few sessions on the powerball your hands begin to become significantly more toned and much much less prone to RSI. In fact since getting the powerball I haven’t suffered at all.

    Oh yeah, I’d recommend a Microsoft two buttoned scrolling mouse for Mac users. Apple have never been very good at designing great mouses.

  40. Roger and friends, this was very useful. As I appreciated in my comments earlier, I have started using the mouse with this new position and for last couple of days finding myself getting used to it. I have realised that this is a good practice.

    Now the next question is about the posture. I have back aches and in the past I have been given a number of advise from my friends. The problem is that they all don’t say the same thing. :-)

    It will be really appreciated if someone shares his views on this. Soemthing authentic. You see what I mean, don’t you?

    I am not sure if Roger in the past have raised this topic as a point of discussion.

    How one should sit whilst they work for longer hours on the computer? 45 degree, 90 degree, 180 degree…oops that was too much… :-)

  41. May I please just say that this was a great tip? Had no problems so far, and was aware of RSI, but the position you recommend’s surely advisable - and it works.

  42. March 6, 2007 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Andy:

    Oh yeah, I’d recommend a Microsoft two buttoned scrolling mouse for Mac users. Apple have never been very good at designing great mouses.

    I’d recommend my fellow Mac users to get any two button scrolling mouse and put the piece of junk Apple puts in the box with their machines where it belongs: in the trash.

    Jay, Jens: I’m happy you found it useful and comfortable. I could never go back to the traditional mouse position.

  43. March 8, 2007 by Julio

    Great tip! I started doing this halfway through reading through the comments. It is a bit awkward at first, but the closeness to the keyboard is amazing.

    I just bought an apple mighty mouse. Not my best purchase. I think I’m going back to my logitech. But I also bought a new keyboard - MS comfort curve - it’s great! Just more comfortable overall.

    Thanks for the tip!

  44. March 16, 2007 by Kenneth Sundqvist

    One thing that I’ve seen a lot is that people use slow pointer speeds, and almost every one of them say that they get tired in the arm after not very long mouse usage. The rule that I use when setting pointer speed is that I should be able to get the pointer across the whole screen in every situation by only moving the mouse with my fingers and very little wrist movement. The higher speed might take a little time to get used to, but everyone that has tried this have reported back to me that they no longer have problems using the mouse for longer periods, and they find it very painful to have to have to go back to slower speeds where they have to do arm movement.

    I also sit (very relaxed and comfortably back) in an armchair with my keyboard in my lap and the mouse pad (with a hard bottom and a gel wrist cushion) on the armrest so that my arm lies flat on the armrest relaxing the whole arm as I use my mouse.

    My armchair looks close to this one and has a high back so that I can rest my head and still view the monitor perfectly.

    If I wasn’t in this setup I would try this on you’ve recommended, but I don’t switch between the mouse and keyboard a lot so it’s not a problem for me.

    Also this armchair set up allows me to have my elbows resting very comfortably on soft armrests while typing on the keyboard. I can sit for hours not having to lift my arms (except for drinking and eating or picking something else up) and not putting strain on the shoulders, and my elbows get very little repetitive movement as well.

    Now days I spit in the direction of ergonomic office chairs. My armchair is like an extension of my body when I sit and work or read or play computer games.

  45. I actually switched to a touchpad now and dismissed the mouse completly.

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