The traditional computer mouse was not designed with hand and wrist health in mind. It's functional, yet clunky, and can be quite painful to use for sufferers of arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Fortunately, it's possible to find a good arthritis friendly computer mouse online — AND, at a decent price.
First let me get a little scientific and tell you why the traditional mouse is “bad” for you. That way, you'll be better prepared to choose the best mouse alternative for your situation.
(Often, the best mouse for arthritic hands will also be the best mouse for carpal tunnel syndrome.)
Then, I'll present and review 3 solid alternatives for a pain-free experience.
Problems with the Traditional Mouse
For one, using a mouse requires you to keep your wrist and forearm “pronated” (palm-down). The muscles used to maintain this pronated position can add extra stress to the muscles used for the finger and hand movements you use to control the mouse.
This twisted position of the forearm bones can irritate joint inflammation at the wrist and elbow while moving the mouse around.
Other joints are also irritated by mouse movements. The grip of the mouse, and the clicking and scrolling movements will hurt the knuckles. Keeping your arm in a raised position will hurt your shoulder.
A truly “arthritis-friendly computer mouse” will address one or more of these problems by keeping your forearm in a more “neutral” position, removing or reducing your “grip” on the mouse, offer different clicking options, and/or reducing movement at the wrist and elbow.
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3 Arthritis Friendly Mouse Options
Ok, enough of the science. Here's what you want: three highly-recommended pain-free alternatives to the traditional mouse. I'll tell you why they're good, who they're for, and where they won't help you.
99.99Retail ($50~$60 online)
Pros: Comfortable, neutral hand position; Thumb buttons take the pressure off of fingers.
Cons: Same effect as standard mouse on elbows and shoulders.
An ergonomic mouse (sometimes called a “vertical mouse”) attempts to be more comfortable by reducing wrist pronation.
This one gets a lot of attention on the Internet, and is reported to have received the Arthritis Foundation's “Ease-of-Use” commendation.
The 3M Ergonomic Mouse looks like an old-school joystick, except it doesn't wobble around in it's base. The slight angle keeps your hand in the neutral, or “handshake” position, which feels natural and comfortable.
The buttons you would use to click and right-click are at the thumb-position instead of your index and middle fingers. Personally, I find this awkward. However, with practice, you can get used to it relatively quickly. And, if you have a lot of pain in your finger knuckles, this could provide a huge relief.
You move the base around the tabletop or mousepad — just like a traditional mouse — so it works the way you'd expect it to. On the down-side, you have to lift and move it to make up for a small table space (just like a regular mouse), so it doesn't do much for you if you're looking to ease pain in your elbows and shoulders.
This is a very comfortable design, deserving of the Arthritis Foundation's commendation. It gives you the same functionality and control of a traditional mouse, while taking the stress off of your wrists and fingers. If standard mouse use affects your elbow and shoulder, this might not be for you. Yes, it's a little pricey, but the online discounts, and reduction in pain makes it worth the investment.
69Retail ($53~$63 online; ~$40 used)
Pros: Keeps arm and wrist in one position; large surface area for all sized hands; convenient swipe gestures and “buttonless” design.
Cons: Limited functionality on Windows PCs; requires batteries; Not good for people with reduced finger control.
The trackpad takes a different approach to comfort. Instead of reducing wrist pronation, it assures that your hand remains in a comfortable position at rest, with no need to move your elbow or shoulder.
Apple's Magic Trackpad is a stylish-looking, standalone device that sits on your table, and connects wirelessly to your computer.* It works just like the trackpads built into most laptop computers: you run your finger over it to move the arrow on your screen.
*(You have to have a Mac with Bluetooth to connect. Those of you running Windows on a PC can connect, but lose much of the “magical” functionality.)
At first glance you might ask, “Where are the buttons?” (I did). Apple's innovative design turns the entire trackpad into a button. You can press anywhere on the trackpad for a “click”. This conveniently reduces finger movement by placing the buttons wherever your finger happens to be — one finger to click, two fingers to right-click.
It also reduces finger stress by adding multi-touch swiping control — very much like you'll find on the iPhone or iPad.
Slide two fingers simultaneously to scroll through a page. Add a third finger to go back and forth between web pages in your browser. “Pinch” with four fingers to bring up all your apps.
It might sound complicated, but after some practice it becomes intuitive. And, it reduces a lot of the “mousing around” your screen to click on special buttons and commands.
Its large surface area should make it comfortable for all sized hands. I found it responsive and comfortable.
It's very intuitive and easy to learn, especially if you use a laptop, or a touch smartphone or tablet like an iPhone or iPad. It removes the need to constantly lift and move your arm around, so your shoulder and elbow get a break. If you have limited mobility in your fingers, this may not be for you.
59.99Retail ($30~$40 online)
Pros: Comfortable, neutral hand position; keeps arm and wrist at rest in one position; standard mouse positions for buttons.
Cons: Thumb control might take time to get used to; requires batteries.
This trackball takes a two-prong approach.
Like the trackpad, a trackball is a stationary device that sits on your desk (or, even on your lap). You won't have to move your shoulder or elbow.
The Logitech M570 Wireless Trackball has the added benefit of conforming to the general shape of your open and relaxed hand, keeping it in a “partially-pronated” position to take the strain off your wrist.
Rather than move your finger around on a surface, however, you control the arrow on your screen by rolling a little ball.
The actual ball of this trackball, however, requires you to use your thumb to move the ball that controls the arrow on your screen.
I have to be honest. Personally, I found this to be extremely awkward and difficult to get used to. Almost annoying, even.
The advantage to this, however, is that traditional mouse users will find the buttons and a scroll-wheel in their usual places — at the index and middle fingers.
As an additional convenience, Logitech adds “quick navigation buttons” to move back and forth between webpages and documents (like the “swipe” feature in the Magic Trackpad), and buttons you can program to do common tasks with a single click.
While I personally did not like the thumb control, I cannot deny the comfort of this device. Thousands of positive reviews online speak to its superior convenient design. It keeps your arm and shoulder in a rested position, and it can be placed on a table or in your lap for convenience.
Update: A Fourth Option
A number of readers wrote in to complain that the options above require extra work from their thumbs — not a good option for those of you with thumb-joint pain. I was remiss, and apologize for not noticing this sooner.
So, I did some research, and now present to you this fourth option:
99.99Retail ($80~$90 online)
Pros: Comfortable, neutral hand position; Programmable buttons allow you to use your most capable fingers.
Cons: Same effect as standard mouse on elbows and shoulders.
Like the ergonomic mouse, above, this vertical mouse attempts to be more comfortable by keeping your hand in the neutral “handshake” position, reducing wrist pronation.
The Evoluent VerticalMouse 4, however, adds some additional design features that contribute to comfort and convenience.
First, unlike 3M's “joystick” design, which requires a closed grip on the mouse, Evoluent uses an open-handed contour. This allows for a more relaxed grip, and access to buttons without contorting your fingers.
Second, a total of 5 programmable buttons allow you to decide which of your fingers will be doing the clicking. Two buttons rest at the thumb, and one at each of your first three fingers. Your pinky rests on a little lip that prevents it from rubbing against your tabletop.
A scroll-wheel sits in the traditional position between the index and middle fingers.
This programmability feature is a major benefit for people who have limited control of the predominant fingers. You can set it up so that your middle-finger is a traditional click, and your ring finger is a right-click, or vice versa.
One other convenient feature is the ability to adjust the tracking speed (how fast the pointer moves on the screen) directly from the mouse. No need to dig into your system settings to adapt to your work.
As with the ergonomic mouse, you move the base around the tabletop or mousepad like a traditional mouse — so it won't ease pain in your elbows and shoulders.
This comfortable design, combined with the flexibility to decide which fingers you wish to use, may be a good solution for those with pain in the thumb base joint or dominant fingers. It comes in wireless versions, and a size for smaller hands. Evoluent also makes a left-handed model.
These are only
three (now 4!) arthritis friendly computer mouse alternatives. There are hundreds more available, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. But, any of them can go a long way towards providing a more comfortable computing experience.
I hope I've given you a head start and pointers in how to find the best option for you.
If you have an experience with one of the above products that you'd like to share, or want to suggest another mouse option for review, please tell us about it in the comments below. I'd love to read your feedback!