RSI-UK Digest for 2 Sep 1997

Question: I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts on way of reducing mouse usage, or more exactly reducing injuries from mouse usage. Mice tend to be worse than keyboard for hand strain. One way of dealing with this is by using better mice, or trackballs etc, but another way is by finding alternatives. Most of the hardware solutions (such as touch screens) have their own disadvantages, so a possible line of attack is to look at software. This could mean using keyboard shortcuts, for example.

Another thought on this is that the mice are not the problems. Instead, it could be that point-and-click style interfaces tend to make people stressed and/or physically tense. Why? Because they encourage an “instant gratification” view of software, where each user action is immediately followed by a response. So if you have a slow or overloaded machine, or you are doing something across a network, you wait with bated breath and tensed shoulders for the response, which takes time to happen. So another idea is to encourage people to use software which allows typing ahead, or which somehow separates action and response. I’m not convinced by this, but I’d like to look into this area.

Answer 1: Two things I find help: First, a Wacom Artpad. This is a pressure sensitive pad with a ‘pen’ that is used as a pointing device. Holding a pen is a more normal action than clicking a mouse. Second, a programmable mouse. I’m not sure these are available for Windows, but they are for the Mac. An example is the Logitech. It has three buttons which can be programmed to do anything you want. In my case, Click, Double Click, Return. I have the Pad on the left of the keyboard and the mouse on the right. I can then swop from one to the other. Neither is a solution to RSI, but they certainly help. Not convinced by this argument. Imagine going back to using DOS, more key strokes, more stress and a lot of hanging around. Maybe a faster machine would help. Most people’s work creates stress. I often find myself hunched up over the keyboard. Once I make an effort to sit up and relax, my wrists immediately start to feel better.

Answer 2: Logitech mice for Windows have the same features. By the way, it was not Windows which invented the double click, of course, but the Mac. Anyway – I find switching mouse hand helps. In the early stages it just slows you down, which is good, as you speed up it still helps to have a rest. Just be careful that you don’t end up damaging the ‘apparently good’ hand – often there is more tension than you realise in the arm/hand/shoulder that feels OK, and it is important for both sides of the body to get treated in massage, stretching, etc. There are a lot of programmable mouse tools. The solution here may be a break reminder tool that reminds you to adopt better posture periodically, so that eventually this becomes internalised. As for how to learn better posture, take Alexander lessons – the reminder can then simply be to give yourself your ‘direction’, i.e. let your neck be free, back lengthen and widen, head go forward and up. (Note that the head forward bit is really very minor, and in general anyone practicing Alexander will have their ears almost vertically over their shoulders – key postural problem in many people.) The only downside of Alexander is that once you are trained up you involuntarily recognise and wince at appalling neck positions in people on the street – sometimes it is amazing that people are not more ill with their head pushed right forward. (End of Alexander rant – this stuff really is good for long term recovery, though.)

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