Question: This may seem a strange request but my hands now depend on the use of my intellimouse trackball and the ball is now not always working properly. With an ordinary mouse I used to just take out the rubber ball and, well, rub it and it was then OK but that won’t work with this as it is a hard plastic mouse ball. Has anyone any suggestions as to how to encourage this one to work please? So some requests are stranger than others!

Answer 1: As far as I know there are two types of ball. One is the ball that causes rollers to move within the mouse. These rollers get clogged (like the hoover rollers which drag along the floor). A cotton bud can be used to clean them. The other mechanism, as found in the Logitech Trackman FX that I have, is none mechanical. Instead the ball has black dots on and two optical pads read the movement of these dots. Again, these pads can be cleaned using a cotton bud. A good puff of air also helps.

Answer 2: Which are best? Finger or thumb operated?

Answer 3: It depends what causes you pain! I have my worst pain in the joints at the base of my thumbs, so thumb-operated trackballs (i.e. most of them) are completely out for me. You need to try a few out before buying.

Answer 4: Most commentaries on trackballs recommend the larger ones operated by the fingers. Kensington and similar styled ones appear to be rather popular. I’m using a Kensington Expert Mouse (trackball) here at home. The only complaint I have is I wish it came with a palm rest, or had one built in. I use a gel palm rest to avoid dropping my wrist onto the table and stressing my wrist.

Answer 5: The answer if you also use voice software is to get a Philips Speechmike – I rest mine on my lap and use my palm to move the trackball element. Before that I kept a mouse – run by Logitech trackball software (I bought the trackball and didn’t like it) – and move that with the palm of my hand flat on, never twisting my wrists. The SpeechMike point is that it’s quite heavy and won’t fall off anything!

Answer 6: Does a trackball help? Do you use thumb and forefinger to move the trackball? And doesn’t this cause any RSI problems? How do you click?

Answer 7: Unless I’ve misunderstood your doctor’s remarks, my understanding is that typing with wrists “cocked” could be a bad idea — you should really keep your wrists in a neutral position and should not rest them on a wrist rest while actually typing. Trackballs (such as the Logitech Marble Mouse) are inexpensive alternatives to using a mouse. I also use a program called Mousetool which clicks the mouse automatically to save you clicking mouse buttons.

Answer 8: I use the following set up and use underside of my fingers to track. I use the hotkeys provided by RSI Guard to do any clicking. Unlike a mouse a trackball does not runaway when you take your hand away so you spend less time on mousing.
Maltron QWERTY keyboard.
Kensington Expert Mouse (Tracker ball)
Swivel arm supports.
RSI Guard software.
Lumber support chair.
A foot rest.
The Maltron Keyboard was difficult to get used to but worthwhile because pressing a key means a therapeutic stretching motion of the fingers. The Tracker ball is easy to use with any surface of your body and when combined with RSI guard’s Auto click and Hotkey mouse button keyboard re-mapping it works really well. RSI Guard has really protected me and enforced pacing of my work. Pacing is really the only way to improve and work, and when you realise that regular breaks at work can actually help your work effort, it’s not that bad taking them.

Answer 9: There are trackballs and trackballs! Some of the ‘ergonomic’ ones require a lot of thumb movement – for moving the ball and for clicking. My thumbs are my most painful part – so that’s no good for me. At home I have a Logitech trackball Mouse, which is no longer made. It has two large rectangular paddles, with the ball in the middle. I roll the ball under my fingers and also click with first two fingers (left click) and 3rd/4th fingers (right click) – quite a different action from a mouse, and ok. At work I have the nearest thing I could find, as this was discontinued. It’s a Pilot Kensington Trackball Mouse. Can’t really describe its shape very easily, but the way my hand moves on it is the same as above – well, nearly. No arm movements, no gripping the mouse with the thumb, different and better (for me) clicking action.

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