The original computer mouse was not invented recently by an ergonomics expert or a medical professional commissioned to design a device for millions to use every day for long hours without causing health problems. It was invented in 1963 by Douglas Engelbart, an electrical engineer and computer scientist who just wanted to control his computer. Engelbart was interested in its immediate practical application and he did not consider long-term health risks. His device was not tested for years to see if regular use could cause temporary repetitive strain injury or even permanent injury.
Although the scientist must have thought it was a clever idea at the time, the human wrist was not designed for a computer mouse. Engelbart’s first bulky, awkward mouse was crude and wooden; many refined plastic versions have been created since then in the last fifty years. But they all have one common denominator which is a problem: they essentially require the hand or wrist to be twisted or turned into the same basic position.
Standard computer mouse use forces the hand and wrist into positions which are unnatural. Operating a mouse is awkward and becomes uncomfortable, because the wrist is turned up to 90 degrees from its most comfortable natural resting position.
Is it therefore surprising that continually forcing the wrist into such an unnatural position for hours every day at work can cause damage or injury? Mouse use, indeed, strains your wrists and, if it happens often enough, causes chronic pain–even after staying off a computer for a few days.
Several years ago I solved the problem of wrist pain from regular mouse use by switching my mouse and mousepad to the opposite side of my keyboard. Instead of using my right hand to move the mouse, I gave it a rest; I used my left hand. I am not ambidextrous but adapted to the change easily. After a few weeks when the left wrist hurt, I switched back to the right. Alternating every few weeks like this worked fairly well for several months, but it wasn’t a good long-term solution. In fact it ruined both wrists instead of just one!
A wrist rest can provide some relief. It did help me but only when I used a computer for a few hours a day. Once I started using a computer all the time at work, it wasn’t good enough. Depending on how often you use a computer, a wrist rest could be the perfect, cheap solution. Modern Mac users are lucky; the Apple keyboard is very ergonomically well designed. It has a very low profile, so you may not even need a wrist rest, although personally I use six square coasters (two rows of three) to raise it just a little (5/16″).
Health guides from the government advise computer users to avoid repetitive strain injury by proper posture, frequent breaks, and correctly holding the mouse. But that is not necessarily an option for very busy people with demanding jobs. Technological advances have included the wireless mouse which relieves users from needing to use a mousepad, and an ergonomic mouse which allows the hand to sit in a pretty natural, relaxed position. These were valuable improvements, but why should computer users even have to use a mouse? Isn’t there a simpler, safer and better way to control a computer?
I bought a Wacom Tablet after reading a review on Amazon.com where one owner said it provided relief for carpal tunnel syndrome. He said he used it for surfing the internet. The tablet uses a pen instead of a mouse. If you don’t experience wrist pain when using a handwriting pen, you shouldn’t experience any pain with the Wacom pen.
I have now used the Wacom pen for over a year, and I’ve never felt any pain or discomfort, because the hand position in holding a pen is very close to a natural resting position. It causes very little stress. I haven’t thrown out my mouse but now I only use it very rarely, and when I do, it still causes discomfort.
There are several different kinds of Wacom pens which are used primarily by digital artists and graphic designers. One key difference between them is thickness. I started with a thick pen which digital painters use, but found it too bulky, so I downsized to a regular pen, which is just a little larger than a Bic pen. I wish somebody had told me about it many years ago. I believe all new computers should be sold with pens instead of mice.
The risk of repetitive strain injury from using a pen is much lower than using a computer mouse. The original computer mouse idea was conceived decades before people started using their computers every day at work and on the internet after work. Therefore there was no data on carpal tunnel syndrome or repetitive strain injuries in the workplace. Now that we as a society have gradually since the 1980s been using computers and mice more and more often, and the data has shown the damage, it is time for everybody to rethink computer mouse use. Just because almost everybody uses a mouse and it is cheap does not make it safe.