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I have an odd RSI problem that means using a mouse on the desk doesn't work well for me.

I researched hand-held mouse alternatives years ago and ended up buying one of these:

The (old model) Fellowes cordless micro trac

Mouse

(You hold it like a gun, thumb on the trackball on top, index finger clicking the trigger)

Which was less than a hundred bucks on eBay. But I've stopped using it; it creates it's own RSI thanks to:

  • a not-so-great-quality trackball and
  • the positions I had to end up holding it in for least strain (it still strained something).

I'm using the keyboard more and the mouse less (a good idea anyway). Other than that, has anyone used a mouse alternative that they can recommend?

I've seen foot mice and head tracking and a whole bunch of interesting stuff online, but it's too expensive from me to spend $300 plus postage and then discover it doesn't help.

Has anyone actually used any such device? This is the kind of thing you have to try for a day or two to know if it works.

(I am especially interested in ones that don't sit on the desk, but let me know what works for you).

Update: Since mouse alternatives are useful in general, to many people with problems different from mine, I've made this community wiki.

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closed as not constructive by Mokubai, slhck, Simon Sheehan, Nifle, Sathya Feb 16 '12 at 5:44

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1 device per answer please so we can vote on the best stuff. –  Johan Aug 12 '09 at 7:46
    
Connect 2-3 pointing devices to your computer and switch all the time. –  Johan Aug 12 '09 at 7:49
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Add pictures, for each answer, makes for easier voting :) –  pavsaund Aug 12 '09 at 10:59
    
A great mouse alternative I use: SmartNAV. More info: superuser.com/questions/21601/… –  Franck Dernoncourt Jun 20 '12 at 13:01
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14 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

In my experience with - still - moderate RSI in the right hand and shoulder, changing devices regularly helps.

The productivity you lose for having to adjust for a couple hours to a new keyboard or mouse is more than offset by the health gains.

As mice go, I use a combination of the following. As soon as I feel some pain settling in, I don't wait and plug in a new one:

  1. A vertical mouse from Evoluent

    alt text

  2. An extra large touchpad with stylus from Ergonomic Touchpad.com

    alt text

  3. A Logitech MX Revolution

    alt text

I've always got a combination of one mouse and the touchpad at the ready and very frequently switch from one to another depending on what I'm doing.

Of course, the usual recommendations apply: move regularly and naturally (as opposed to exercising vigorously in a gym), take micro-breaks to stretch and look out the window, walk as much as possible, and nurture your positive outlook on life.

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+1 I use the vertical mouse at work with great success. Just remember to use it "at your stomache" (IN FRONT of the keyboard, not at the side) so the angles are right... then I use a "normal" mouse at home for variation - still close to the stomache though. –  Oskar Duveborn Aug 12 '09 at 13:57
    
@Vincent Buck, I almost bought the ergonomic touchpad, but realised it has no buttons. It has the tap-to-click feature, but I always turn that off on my laptop touchpads because it doesn't work well (often mistakes other touches as clicks). Isn't that annoying? Do these guys do it better somehow? –  MGOwen Aug 14 '09 at 0:11
    
About moving naturally, try yoga and similar practices instead of or in addition to gym or whatever physical workout suits your fancy –  Oskar Duveborn Jan 2 '11 at 15:39
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You mean move "regularly and naturally" for our hunter and gatherer bodies, or move regularly and naturally for a post-industrial, sit-around-all-day-and-eat-cheetos society? Vigorous exercise at the gym simulates what our bodies are made to do, and can often cure RSI problems [citation needed]. –  Yar Jan 16 '12 at 19:24
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+1 I bought an Evoluent mouse after getting wrist and elbow pain. A year later and with no decrease in my computer use the pain has never returned. They also do left-handed versions. –  Tog Feb 15 '12 at 9:40
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Many good suggestions here. One important thing to do however, in addition to get a good mouse alternative of course, is to learn hotkeys and use your keyboard as much as possible. Will save your hand and arm a lot of work, and most likely speed up things as well =)

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I totally agree. I had minor RSI issues. Switching to an ergonomic keyboard helped some, but the true solution was to learn keyboard shortcuts and use pointing devices as little as possible. Back on a normal keyboard now, and NO problems at all! I have a regular mouse that I only use when I have to. Have tried trackballs, tablets, touchpads, etc. The type of pointing device doesn't matter, it's when I use ANY pointing device too much! –  Brian Knoblauch Aug 12 '09 at 14:32
    
Agreed and upvoted (though I did mention this already in the original question) –  MGOwen Aug 13 '09 at 1:09
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Pen tablets

Wacom claims they help against RSI. The technology is very mature and wacom produces really good tablets. Yet it is not the same as using a trackball or a mouse.

My main problem is, that you have to lay down and pick up the pen whenever you're switching to the keyboard which slows you down when you have to switch often (like when revising a word document). But it sure is an alternative.

Here's a link to their entry model: http://www.wacom.com/bambootablet/bamboo.php

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They are good, if for nothing else but holding a pen is a different hand-position/movement to using a mouse or using the keyboard –  dbr Aug 12 '09 at 11:03
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alt text

I don't work for Kensington, but if I did I'd say the same thing: the Kensington Expert Mouse, which is really a poorly-named trackball, is great for RSI. Your hand is opened up completely and is changing position (dynamically) all the time. It's like gymnastics for your hand. Also, you have a scroll-ring that you spin.

Plus it's fun and reminds you of Centipede, if you're old enough :)

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NOTE: I hate the SlimBlade Trackball, which is newer and "better." The Expert Mouse still rocks. –  Yar Jan 16 '12 at 19:20
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I know several people with RSI that like the thumb trackballs like the Logitech Trackman. There is also a cordless version. Your hand doesn't have to move at all to use it.

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I wish it was left-handed. –  Tadeusz A. Kadłubowski Aug 12 '09 at 7:42
    
I use that one and it is great, althou not all the time, if I only use that one for 1-3weeks my thumb starts to feel... but if I switch back and forth all the time I think its the best thing since.... –  Johan Aug 12 '09 at 7:45
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Does it matter if you put the mouse in front of your stomache turned 90 degree (between your stomache and the keyboard) - for a more relaxed and not so un-natural arm, wrist and elbow angles? That also makes it much faster to switch hands and use the other hand when not doing precision work - like navigating the web and so forth...

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Yes this helps, I do it pretty often already. I might try a vertical mouse in this position, in addition to some others... –  MGOwen Aug 14 '09 at 0:05
    
Cool, this is basically how I fixed my problems.. the vertical mouse and the better position - and frequent use of my "lesser" hand.... I think mostly what is needed is more variation and frequent breaks. A good chair and desk also helps - standing up at times helps a lot. –  Oskar Duveborn Aug 14 '09 at 12:59
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I switched to a Logitech Trackman Marble after carpal tunnel surgery to prevent re-occurrence. It took some time, but within two years I developed a very painful trigger thumb from using the ball. My therapist said there is no perfect pointing device, and recommended switching from one to another several times a day.

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This isn't as useful an answer as I'd like it to be: A Microsoft Trackball Explorer. Unfortunately, they don't make them any more. I've tried a few other devices, but the only thing that comes close is a Logitech trackball which is also not made any more. Anyway, my recommendation would be to try a range of trackballs.

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Still useful, with the link I can see it and at least find a similar trackball. Upvoted. –  MGOwen Aug 14 '09 at 0:08
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As an alternative, take a look at the products by LaZee Tek. They have several alternative mice designed for people with physical limitations. Although expensive, they have a demo program that lets you test drive before you buy. Google LaZee Tek or go to lazeetek.com

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I've been having trouble with rsi for some time now. One method I use is to use my left hand (i'm right handed) It feels akward at first, but with practice I've gotten used to it. It has really helped.

Another thing I do is to hold the mouse at a right angle, controling the scroller and also clicking the left button with my thumb and the right button (less used) with finger. I find this helpful too.

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You could use any windows compatible gamepad with joy2key - lifehacker talks about using a PS3 controller with motioninjoy but you can use joy2key with any joystick.

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I haven't used it myself, but this one got attention a couple of years ago. http://penclic.se

On a more general note I've enjoyed the apple touch pads a lot more than pc ones, and I think they are sold as a mouse of sorts now, not only built into their laptops. I don't know how much of that is the operating system, though.

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