Preventing RSI could be as easy as switching mouse hand

I started using computers when I was about 17. By the time I was 20 I had a full time job servicing computers at an organization. At this time I began having uncomfortable, sometimes painful, feelings in my right wrist when using the computer mouse.

Computer workers risk injury to their hands, arms and wrists due to Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) or Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Being aware of this I began worrying and decided to switch to using the mouse with my left hand instead. I am left handed, so this might sound trivial. But I only write with my left hand. Everything else feels more natural for me to do with my right hand. So switching mouse hand was not easy. It’s hard to remember, but it probably took me about half a year before I felt comfortable using the mouse with my left hand. I don’t regret it though, as my problems went away and I have not had much problems since.

While I am fully capable of using the mouse with both my hands today, I prefer the left hand. For some reason, the uncomfortable feelings in my wrist tend to return very quickly when I use the right hand. It might have something to do with how I hold the mouse. I think I have a more relaxed grip when using the left hand. It could also be that my right arm is simply more sensitive.

Some things you should know about:

  • Most computer mice can be used by both hands. This is true even if they have an unsymmetrical shape. You simply hold it a little bit different. It may sound odd, but they are actually still comfortable that way. Only the most extreme designs would be unsuitable for left handed use.
  • There is no need to flip the mouse buttons in the system settings. There seems to be a misconception that you need to use your index finger with the main mouse button, requiring you to flip the mouse buttons for left handed work. But this is not true. You simply use whatever finger feels comfortable to you. I find myself using my middle finger, sometimes in combination with my index finger which gives me a comfortable rest for my fingers.
  • If you have a standard sizes keyboard, the numerical keypad on the right side will make the keyboard extrude further to the right than to the left. The typical right sided position of the mouse forces your arm into a slightly awkward angle in order to reach it. This is not a healthy position. An advantage of putting the mouse to the left leads to a more natural position. (You might consider buying a keyboard without a numerical keypad if you want to continue having the mouse on the right side.)
  • Even though I am fully capable of controlling the computer with my left hand, when playing FPS games I still switch back to my right hand. Gaming tends to require high precision, and I simply feel faster and more accurate that way.
  • Keyboard aficionados will find it more difficult to use common shortcuts such as copy/paste (ctrl+c/v) in combination with mouse work. Either you have let go of the mouse, or awkwardly use your right hand to press the keys. On the other hand (pun not intended) your right hand is free to use on for example the numpad. (update: there is actually a copy/paste combination for the right hand too – see comments below)
  • Variation is key to preventing RSI. Training yourself to use both hands doubles your potential work positions.
  • At work I have two mice, one on each side of the keyboard. I use them both without thought, just grabbing one of them whenever needed.

I want to stress that this post is based on my personal experience. You may not have the same problems, symptoms and remedies as me. But if you have problems with mouse arm I think it’s worth try to change mouse hand. The only requirement is really that you move your current mouse to the other side of the keyboard and give it some time to get used to.

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3 Responses to Preventing RSI could be as easy as switching mouse hand

  1. Alexander Luhr says:

    This was actually quite interesting. I usually use my middle finger as well with my left hand. Beeing left handed as well it’s weird how clumsy you feel when changing to your “prefered hand”. Playing FPS games is simply out of the question with anything else than the right hand, but this could be related to left hand controlling wasd better :-)

  2. Alex says:

    A had a similar experience and switch both hands too
    À little tip for the ctrl c/v awkwardness, there are other shortcuts for copy paste: ctrl + inser and shift inser. They are more accessible for a right hand

    • Dan says:

      Yes. After I wrote this post I discovered ctrl+insert and shift+insert to copy/paste and tried using them. At first it was awkward – it’s not a completely intuitive keyboard combination – but after I while I got used to this too and now I love it!

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