To mouse or not to mouse?

I have a reasonably ergonomic workstation and have adjusted my work style with WorkPace (and the cat who is pretty good about timing breaks), but I want to do everything I can to avoid more “overuse” issues.

Fortunately, my indexing software (SKY Index Pro) allows a lot of flexibility about how I can accomplish any particular task.  Using the mouse more may seem like an obvious answer if the original problem came from too much keying.   That might be helpful—but simply substituting mouse use as much as possible has its own set of problems–“tennis elbow” or more medically, lateral epicondylitis, also a repetitive stress injury (RSI). It didn’t take long to discover this one when I first started using the mouse a lot more.

This syndrome may also be referred to as “mouse overuse syndrome” or possibly as  “wrist resting syndrome (WRS)”, or “mouse elbow” which is, indeed, similar to tennis elbow.  This can occur with prolonged use of the mouse, especially with incorrect positioning.  As with other repetitive movement injuries, it results from the continuous demands made on the muscles, tendons, and even nerve tissues with repetitive movements–actual tissue changes occur–tissue damage, which equals pain. It’s our body telling us something is wrong. It’s a repetitive stress injury (RSI) that we need to avoid.

RSI is not just from the various aspects of computer use, e.g. keying or mousing–it can occur with any repetitive activity that involves similar movements–that stress the same tissues.  So other similar activity away from the computer can add to tissue damage. While “tennis elbow” was the early awareness of lateral epicondylitis, it is now a common workplace problem–from computer use.

This results from overuse of the muscles involved with grasping and with supination/pronation of the hand (turning the palm up/down) which attach in the area of the elbow.  So we have opened another can of worms:  in trying to avoid stress injury in one place we have placed stress on another–avoid carpal tunnel but we get computer elbow.   So just increasing mouse use is NOT the solution.

It seems as if the answer is a balance between mouse and keyboard use.  One of the things I especially appreciate about SKY Index Pro is the keyboard shortcuts (even a “cheat sheet” provided for them) and all the ways that keystrokes are minimized, as well as mouse options if I need a break from keyboard use.  Keyboard shortcuts (for Mac or for PC/Windows users)are “built-in” so you have only to “ask” your computer to display them.

You should use the mouse and/or keyboard shortcuts in the context of your work. I’ve been gradually learning the SKY shortcuts (a huge list) by picking on for the activity that doing right then and using that shortcut–learning them one at a time makes it much easier.   Doing everything on the keyboard when your hands are already on the keyboard is certainly more efficient than moving between the keyboard and the mouse and then back again.  But–if you have had a day of heavy keyboarding,  then perhaps it’s wise to use the mouse. In other words,  try to use a variety of movements in your computer use.

For repetitive tasks, e.g. copying from a PDF file and pasting into your indexing software you might want to learn to use “macros”:  a recording of a series of keystrokes which can be played back with simple commands.  You can write your own with software like MacroExpress or import from a source like Margaret Berson’s Megabit Macros.

Another very easy, positive thing you can do to avoid RSIs is simply taking breaks as often as we really should but that’s not all we can do. The links above give some other suggestions for RSI prevention. I’ve found that using a trackball is a big help–though it’s possible to shift the overuse to your thumb if you’re not careful. Another alternative is a graphic tablet that does have a bit of a learning curve. I often switch to that after my indexing day is over–it works great for just browsing.

Gadgets or alternative device suggestions (no financial link to either of those) aside, one of the best things we can do (except for taking breaks) is to learn what our indexing software can really do–maybe even read the manual or the help information–and make full use of those capabilities.

I know I’m always on about breaks and “helpful” software, but having surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome or Guyon canal compression is no picnic. Unfortunately, the older we get the more likely we are to have these problems and it’s very easy to ignore the early, reversible symptoms–especially if they are gone when you start work next day. The onset is insidious. Since I’ve already got the T-shirts, I’m all for prevention, including avoiding recurrences.


(Just a little trivia–there’s also a tarsal tunnel syndrome (TTS) which is most commonly a sports injury or occurring with arthritis, but repetitive, long-term foot-pedal use may also cause it.)



One Comment Add yours

  1. Sharyn Caudell says:

    When I was working and on the computer many hours per day, ii found a vertical mouse worked best—AirO2bic mouse


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