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3 reasons you should use an ergonomic mouse before it's too late

Experiencing wrist pain? Your remedy may be more accessible (and affordable) than you think.
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Written by June Wan, Tech Editor on
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June Wan/ZDNet

As someone who spends eight-plus hours a day typing and clicking, having a comfortable mouse is just as important to me as the chair I sit on. It wasn't until early this year that I began to develop minor wrist pain, an indication that my then-current mouse was taking a toll on my physical health. Wrist pain is the main reason why ergonomic mice exist. 

Whether you work from home or at the office, chances are you've mulled the idea of buying an ergonomic mouse. Like chairs and keyboards, ergonomic mice are built upon the pillars of comfort, fit, and posture. They're sculpted to fit the curvatures of your fingers and palm while reducing the constant tension on your wrist from clicking and gliding.

In my quest to fully understand the anatomy of ergonomic mice, I met up with Peter Johnson, a Professor Emeritus who works in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington. Johnson is also a member of Logitech's Ergo Lab Advisory Board. From our discussions, here are three key reasons you should use an ergonomic mouse before it's too late.

1. Reduce bone-twisting and pronation

Imagine yourself holding a basketball. Are your hands gripping it from the sides or from the top and bottom? What about when you're holding a steering wheel? 

The reason it's so natural for our hands to grip objects from the side is because when we're doing so, the two bones in our forearms (the radius and ulna) are parallel and untwisted. When using a traditional mouse, your hand is face down, causing the two bones to twist, pinch the tissues of your arm, and put added stress on your wrist, muscles, and tendons in the forearm. Maintaining this non-neutral (or unnatural) posture for hours on end can lead to wrist pain, swelling, and worst yet, carpal tunnel syndrome.

That's where ergonomic mice come in. The best ones elevate and allow your hand to rest in a vertical or near-vertical position -- as if you're giving a handshake. This angle, like holding a steering wheel or basketball, creates the most natural arm structure, reducing any potentially harmful twisting and turning of bones. 

"I'd also emphasize that you cannot have an ergonomic mouse until you have a keyboard that makes your mouse more ergonomic. I am a real proponent of reduced footprint/compact keyboards. These keyboards have keys the same size as a conventional keyboard but eliminate the cursor navigation keys and numeric keypad. These additional keys on the right side of the keyboard often push and force the operator to use the mouse further away from the centerline of their body," Johnson said. 

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An ergonomic mouse (top) also relieves the tension from your wrist. Comparatively, a traditional mouse (bottom) creates tension.

June Wan/ZDNet

2. Ease the pressure on your wrist

Have you ever felt palm fatigue or noticed a bit of swelling after using a mouse? That's because we rely on the bottom side of our hands to balance and pivot traditional mice. (It gets worse the heavier your mouse is.)

While using an ergonomic mouse requires a shift in muscle memory, you'll feel a noticeable weight lifted from the base of your palm. "There certainly can be an increase in postural benefit with an increase in the verticality of the mouse, but there can be a trade-off with how proficient the users can operate the vertical mouse," said Johnson. 

He's right. It took me a good week before I found a mouse sensitivity and scroll speed that was adequate for my eight-hour workday. "Vertical mice that fill the hand can force the user to move the mouse using an arm/shoulder-based method, and this can slightly reduce their operational proficiency. I tend to prefer vertical mice that are small -- so that the user can manipulate the vertical mouse with their wrist and/or fingers."

In a handshake position, the downforce now falls against the bonier side of your hand, easing the tension that typically compresses the sensitive tissues of your wrist.

For even greater comfort, I'd highly recommend dampening the pressure with a cushioned mousepad.

3. Improve sitting posture

Sit up straight and position your hands like how you would when using a keyboard and mouse. They should be face down. Now rotate both sides, including your forearm, upward. Notice your shoulders falling back and your back straightening whenever your arm shifts to handshake position. 

A vertical, ergonomic mouse follows this exact principle. By promoting a straighter sitting posture, you're not only reducing the chances of musculoskeletal disorders but back pain as well. 

More: Best standing desk chairs

Which ergonomic mouse should I buy?

Choosing the right ergonomic mouse will depend on your hand size, hand dominance (left-handed or right-handed), and preferred form factor. I've tested a number of mice and highly recommend the following for all types of users. 

My current mouse of choice, the Logitech Lift Vertical is the company's latest ergonomic offering and comes in left-handed and right-handed versions. It's sculpted in a way that allows your fingers to naturally rest against the quiet-click buttons while ensuring a firm grip for gliding. The mouse is sized well enough to accommodate users with small and large hands and boasts a two-year battery life. 

Anker, a reputable brand for office peripherals and charging accessories makes one of the best-value ergonomic mice that I've used. It doesn't have the quiet clicks and left-handed version that the Logitech Lift Vertical does, but still offers a fit and finish that will relieve tension from your wrist. The mouse works with Mac and Windows and can be had for significantly less than most ergonomic mice. 

If you seek the angular form factor of the aforementioned mice but prefer to navigate with a trackball, then I'd recommend Logitech ERGO M575. The wireless mouse offers easy thumb control and smooth cursor tracking, all for a fraction of the cost of its flashier sibling, the Logitech MX Ergo. The M575 is not a vertical mouse per se, but its longer size and slanted body will help to ease any wrist pain. 

Bottom line

There are many reasons to buy an ergonomic mouse, but the main one is to relieve the stress that typically builds up on your wrist. Ergonomic mice promote greater comfort than traditional ones. And while the specialized peripherals won't cure existing injuries, studies have proven that they can effectively alleviate and reduce the chances of acquiring RSIs, including carpal tunnel syndrome, muscle strain, and scarring at the wrist.

"Whenever you are introducing changes, you should always listen to your body. If the pain/fatigue decreases after a week of using an ergonomic mouse, then you're moving in the right direction. If the pain increases (and it can), it is more likely that some other pointing device, work surface configuration, and/or pointing device location should be explored," Johnson suggested. 

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