Few people today use their computer exclusively for wordprocessing and most of us spend hours each day chasing a small cursor around the screen. For the majority of compuer users this is achieved by operating a mouse with their dominant (favoured) hand.

Traditional mouse operation is very taxing on the muscles, nerves, ligaments and joints of the wrist, elbow and in particular the shoulder. The extent to which one or all of these three joints is affected by mouse operation depends not only on predisposing factors (old injuries, genetics, smoking etc) but also the “mousing technique” of the person.

Shoulder discomfort/pain is the most common symptom associated with poor mousing technique that I have encounterd in my clinical practice.  N.b. when I refer to shoulder symptoms I am also referring the symptoms occuring in the muscles of the shoulder complex inlcuding those of the shoulder blade (Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus Terres Minor and Subscapularis) and upper back/lower neck (Trapezius and Levator Scapulae).

The LogiTech Marble Trackball

Trackballs like the Logitech Marble Mouse minimise shouder activation when mousing, transferring the work instead to the fingers and thumb. Basically, instead of moving the shoulder to move the mouse which in turn  moves the cursor around the screen, we use our fingers and thumb to move the ball, which then moves the cursor.

The Trackball mouse remains stationary and thus so does the shoulder.

I would recommend that you trial a Trackball mouse if the following applies to you:

  • You are experiencing regular symptoms in your mousing shoulder that you are not experiencing in your other shoulder.
  • You are a “long distance mouser” and cannot be reformed. By this I mean you have a tendency to operate the mouse far away from the keyboard. And/or you use large movements to operate the mouse. Try to change your bad habits first before purchasing equipment which may not in the end be necessary i.e. operate your mouse with small movements of the elbow and shoulder, keeping your mouse as close as possible to the edge of your keyboard. Sometimes I get people to return to using mousepads, which I tape down to the desk beside the keyboard as a cue to keep the mouse close i.e. on the mousepad.
  • You have tried and have not been able to master the art of mousing with your other hand/arm. Ideally we should all be alternating on a 30 minute basis between left and right hand mousing to ‘share the load.’ To make this process a whole lot easier change the mouse buttons so that the index finger remains the primary click button and the middle finger the secondary click button. In Windows this can be achieved by going into “Control Panel” then “Mouse” then under “Buttons” tab tick the box to switch the primary and secondary buttons, then press “Apply.” Doing this makes the change over a lot easier on the brain as it doesn’t have to swap fingers.
  • You have a history of, or a current dignosis of, a shoulder condition including Rotator Cuff Tears, Tendonitis, Tendonosis, Subluxation/Dislocation , shoulder ligament tears, Adhesive Capsulitis (Frozen Shoulder) or fractures to scapula (shoulder blade), clavicle (collarbone) or humerous (upper arm bone).

It is not all positives when it comes to Trackballs. Although your shoulder is now having an easy time of it, your fingers and thumb, and due to the anatomy of this region the muscles, blood vessles, ligaments, joints and nerves of your forearm, wrist and hand, are now working like crazy to move that cursor.

Here are some examples of when a Trackball is  not likely to be a good option to trial:

  • When you have symptoms in your wrist, fingers or thumb on a regular basis.
  • You have a history, diagnosis or a family history of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
  • You have another musculoskeletal condition impacting on your fingers, forearm, elbow, hand or thumb e.g. Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, De Quervain’s Disease.

Personally, to “share the load” between my body parts I have both a regular mouse and a Trackball mouse which I alternate between on a half daily basis. Both devices can be kept plugged into the computer concurrently providing you have sufficient ports.

Last thing to consider is that sometimes workplaces do not like employees to have ‘special mouses” (or other equipment) for the simple reason that they don’t want everyone asking for one! I know this seems silly but honestly it is an attitude I come across regularly in my professional practice. Now before we get too cynical about things… employers are not just trying to save equipment costs by being reluctant to have special aids in the workplace but instead may be attempting to prevent injuries associated with the inappropriate use of equipment. I really cannot tell you how many times I have seen employees demanding equipment which they do not need, or worse still could actually be detrimental to their musculoskeletal health.

Here is a link to a commonly available and resonably priced Trackball by Logitech – the Trackman Marble: