Workplace Ergonomics – Does a mouse gel pad really help in preventing RSI and avoid hands and wrist pain?
Until recently, whenever you’d go to the doctor complaining about aches in your wrist due to using a mouse, probably the only advice you got was – Use a gel pad for your mouse! And indeed, for the longest time this was the most popular solution, if not a highly effective one
Today, most ergonomics professionals agree that the mouse gel pad is not the ideal solution, and is certainly not the only solution! The pad is but one of many solutions, and each case should be examined individually, preferably through ergonomic consultation.
Supporting your wrist by a mouse gel pad has several disadvantages:
- The support fixes your hand, so that all mouse movements are performed by your wrist, creating a constant stress on a small group of muscles, that might lead to damages and aches.
- If the supporting pad is not soft enough, it might create a pressure point on the wrist, right at the carpal tunnel – an extremely sensitive spot.
- And when the support is too elevated (a problem common in several designs), it might force the wrist to “break” and fixate it on a faulty working posture.
So – is it time to throw the old gel pad ? Before you toss it away, please pause and note – this kind of support is actually beneficial for a certain percentage people – those that have an arch-like structure in the part that connects the hand to the forearm, and using the pad to support it might help them while working with a mouse.
So, what else can you do if your hand aches?
- Make sure your entire workstation is ergonomically organized. The best way is hiring an ergonomics specialist – go into the link for correct posture and sitting instructions.
- Restore your hand using exercises for strength and flexibility – click here to go to a list of recommended exercises.
- Plunge your hand into some cold water or use some ice to cool your hand at the end of your work session.
- Consider choosing a vertical ergonomic mouse – it improves your hand posture, prevents your shoulder from the uncomfortable twist it has to perform for using a regular mouse, and makes it easy for your shoulder – elbow – wrist and hand to work together.
Migraines, shoulder pains, herniated discs, eye strain… these are just some of the symptoms of what can easily be considered as the Millennium’s syndrome – “Computer pains”.
Suffer some of those? No need to rush to the medicine cabinet, make an appointment with the family doctor or see your physical therapist!
Sometimes even minor adjustments to your workstation can do wonders – eradicate your pain and save you money.
So here’s the Complete Guide to Ergonomics!
Elevated computer screen – sitting for hours in front of an elevated computer screen puts a lot of strain on the neck vertebrae – an effort that causes ongoing pain. The neck is a sensitive area and neck pain can radiate to other body parts such as shoulders, elbows, hands and wrists. Lessening the pressure on neck muscles may also resolve apparently unconnected body aches.
Solution: The computer screen should be placed at eye level and lower to allow the neck vertebrae to be in neutral posture and rest.
Lateral posture – At many companies I see computer screens located not straight in front of the user but sideways, often due to the need to communicate with clients face to face, or in order to make room on the crowded desk. Working in a lateral posture for long periods of time, sometimes for many hours, puts an enormous amount of strain and pressure on the neck vertebrae. This can cause headaches, migraines and pain in other parts of the body. Angled screens and lateral postures put a constant load of strain on the spine and cause the body to be organized unnaturally with every part turned in a different direction.
Solution: The best solution for such a situation is placing the computer screen directly in front of the user whenever possible, moving it aside when the user has to serve clients. This can be achieved by using a multi-directional arm that allows for shifting the screen easily from one position to the other when necessary.
Screen distance – too close or too far – a small work area, sight problems, or a smallish desk may result in a computer screen placed too close to the user, causing eye damage and headaches.
On the other hand, placing the screen too far away strains the eyes and causes fatigue, irritability and disquiet.
Solution: the computer screen should be positioned at a distance of 3 times the screen diagonal, or more simply, sitting at a straight-arm distance from the center of the screen.
Prolonged Sitting - By itself, prolonged sitting can cause physical degeneration as well as a variety of back, shoulders and neck problems. Sitting for long stretches of time without movement compresses the vertebrae, which in turn exert pressure on the nerves. The muscles surrounding the vertebrae suffer from degeneration and blood flow is also impaired.
Solution: It is recommended to change posture occasionally, stand up and stretch out at least once every half an hour, and incorporate into your working hours some sort of physical activity that is compatible with working in front of a computer. The most recommended exercises are strengthening the abdomen and back muscles and performing back rotations.
The Correct Sitting Posture Myth – there is a myth that you should sit with your upper body straight up at 90 degrees toward the feet. This is a serious mistake. Actually it’s much better to sit with a 100 to 110 degrees angle – some sort of leaning back or reclining. The reason for that is that when you sit at 90 degrees, your entire upper body weight is exerted directly on your lower back vertebrae. Reclining at 100 to 110 degrees decreases significantly the pressure on the vertebrae.
And the best solution of all:
Physical awareness – the most effective tool in preventing ergonomic damages is the development of physical awareness. Developing such an awareness under professional guidance can help purchasing cost effective equipment suited to users’ needs, and may improve the worker’s productivity , prevent health issues, increase the number of productive working hours and promote the correct usage of existing human engineering.
What turns a computer mouse into an “ergonomic” accessory?
What are the criteria for an ergonomic mouse?
When purchasing a new mouse, how can we be certain that the mouse touted to be ergonomic does indeed comply with ergonomic criteria?
Does any mice manufacturer have the right to attach the word “ergonomic” to their products?
And is an ergonomic mouse really better than a regular mouse? That is, would an ergonomic mouse helps in preventing carpal tunnel syndrome and inflammations of the wrist?
And last but not least, given the huge assortment of ergonomic mouse devices on the market, how do we know which would be the best and the most appropriate for us?
In order to solve some of these questions, we would first need to determine what exactly is an ergonomic mouse, and what functions are not included in the ergonomic definition.
You might be surprised to know, but the design process of any product involves certain ergonomic considerations.
That being so, basically any product can be called “ergonomic”.
Confused? So am I, but the answer is simple – ergonomic means “suited to the user”. That’s right – Suited to You. That’s the greatest secret of ergonomics.
For example: a small handed girl working with an ergonomic mouse significantly big for her hand or a large man working with a smallish ergonomic mouse will feel very uncomfortable, even though they’re using a mouse that supposedly is ergonomic. An accountant using an extremely narrow or cluttered desk, who chooses to use a large mouse that can hardly be moved on such a desk, will also feel discomfort.
The obvious conclusion is: the mouse should be chosen first and foremost according to body size, work needs and desk format.
Having chosen the ergonomic mouse that fits us we have to ask – would that mouse itself prevent wrist pain?
The answer depends on how we sit and the posture of our hand on the desk.
For example: if we sit too low in respect to our desk, we will not be able to place our hand correctly on the desk, and no ergonomic mouse can or will help us. Or if due to the table structure or the multitude of devices placed on the desk (laptop, telephone, folders… you name it) there is not enough free space to place our wrist, we will not be able to achieve the correct hand posture to benefit from the ergonomic mouse.
So, we understood that we need to choose a mouse that is appropriate to our structure and needs, and have arranged our sitting position and desk to enable us to create the right arm and hand position. The question still remains: Should we buy a mouse defined as ergonomic or can we be satisfied with a simple mouse?
The answer is not that simple. Our best advice would be to try out several mouse devices for a period of time, to feel if there’s any change. I believe some of the ergonomic mouse devices sold today have a structure that definitely lessens the pressure on the hand. Those are worth trying first.
One of the first things I have noticed as an ergonomic advisor was the lack of uniformity and total absence of any standardization of the working environments at offices and working places.
This is mainly evident when you look at the equipment being used – a haphazard mix of old and new appliances, furniture items and ergonomic equipment. In many offices you can find a medley of different desks and chairs even in a single working space.
How would such a situation be created? There are a ton of different reasons.
For example, many working places might replace malfunctioning or broken equipment, but anything that is still functional gets left as it was.
Another reason could be replacing a specific item or equipment, only for those employees who used some sort of leverage to get their equipment renewed. And sometimes, it’s all about ranks – new and improved equipment is bought for the higher rank workers of the organization, but not for the lower ranks.
Additional reasons might be different decisions reached by different purchasing officers, a decision made by the operational vice president, a change in the budget allocated to acquisition, etc.
What is more clear is that this lack of uniformity can and does create an array of problems:
- Those workers left to work with outdated equipment suffer discomfort and pains;
- Each working station requires different ergonomic accessories (which ofcourse entails a higher monetary expenditure);
- It is impossible to offer a uniform ergonomic guidance to all workers;
- Planning the arrangement of different work stations in one working space is complex and unecessarily problematic;
- It is a situation which could create resentment among workers and lead to demands for ergonomic equipment;
- And of course this is a situation which could damage the organization’s public image.
Using solid ergonomic advise and planning when getting ready to purchase ergonomic equipment in the early stages of building work stations is a critical step. Good ergonomic advice will allow the organization to create a healthy, ergonomic and uniform work environment.