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Whitepaper: How do you choose the right mouse?

The most commonly used accessory for working with a computer or laptop is still the mouse. Particularly in work environments, a mouse is often used and is even a standard device included at many computer workstations. Various studies confirm these statements. Following a survey of The Atlantic in 2014 conducted among almost 300 people, it appeared that more than threequarters had used an external mouse during the previous week.
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Due to its frequent use, having a good mouse is essential for making work on a computer or laptop healthy and comfortable. There are many different kinds of mice on the market today, most of which (i.e. the unconventional mice) are also ergonomically responsible. From vertical, precision and centrally positioned mice to a pen tablet: How can you choose which mouse is right for you?

This whitepaper provides insight into the effects of ergonomic mice on health and performance. The first section takes a close look at European legislation. Next to be addressed, step by step, are health-related effects, the alternative for the computer mouse, and performance-related effects. We conclude with a useful selection guide for determining the ergonomic mouse that best fits your preferences and mouse use.

What does EU legislation say?
European legislation stipulates that a monitor must be separated from the keyboard. For stationary computers such as desktops and thin clients, the monitor and keyboard are already separate elements.

This is not so, however, with a laptop in which the monitor and keyboard are a single unit. To comply with the legislation, one should use a separate keyboard when working on a
laptop. It is also necessary to use a laptop stand to enable placing the monitor in any position. Because the mouse in the touchpad is an immovable element in a laptop, it is placed between the monitor and the keyboard, which makes using it inconvenient, unless an external mouse is used. An external mouse is thus a logical choice when considering the standpoint of legislation. And from the user’s standpoint, it’s necessary for working comfortably and quickly on a laptop.

Health effects
Prolonged use of a mouse can result in pain and discomfort in the shoulders, forearms and hands (Chang, et al., 2007; Andersen, et al., 2008). Using an ergonomic mouse can help to counteract these effects and results in more comfort.

Hand, wrist and forearm strain
Using a conventional (standard) mouse places the hand, wrist and forearm in an unfavourable position. The use of a conventional mouse puts additional strain on the body in three ways:

1. Pronation
Pronation of the forearm occurs when the palm of the hand is turned inward from its neutral starting position.
pronation of the forearm
During this movement, the bones in the forearm and their attached muscles cross each other as shown below. This results in increased muscle tension.


2. Wrist extension
Due to the normal height of the mouse, the wrist is bent backward, this is known as ‘wrist extension’. Since the user also has to lift the forefinger in order to click, this increases the strain throughout the wrist area.

3. Ulnar and radial deviation
The most commonly used way of holding a conventional mouse involves ‘ulnar deviation’. This means that the hand is turned in the direction of its little finger as shown below. The degree to which we can turn our hand towards our thumb (radial deviation) is much more limited. This means that the hand is usually turned to the right: ulnar deviation. In this position, the wrist is not often in a neutral position when using a conventional mouse. Over time, this will lead to strain.
ulnaire deviatie

Various kinds of ergonomic mice
There are various ergonomic mice that increase the comfort of using a mouse. All three mice described below also reduce pronation, wrist extension and ulnar deviation to one extent or another.

Centrally positioned mice: roller bar mice and touchpad

The advantage of centrally positioned mice is that they are located directly in front of the user: between the user and the keyboard. This results in less muscle strain in the shoulder as
compared to a conventional mouse which is located beside the keyboard. When using a central mouse, the shoulder does not have to be turned outward (Lin, et al., 2014).

In addition, the forearms engage in less muscle activity than when using a conventional mouse (Lin, et al., 2014). There are two reasons for this. First of all, the wrist is bent backwards more when using a conventional mouse, so this involves wrist extension. The fingers are also extended almost as far as possible so that the user has to click from this position. Since a central mouse does not force this position, the result is less muscle strain.

Pen tablet and other precision-grip mice

A pen mouse as well as various other mice can be held with the fingertips. When using these mice, the fingers are often held at a tighter angle while the backward bending of the wrist is actually decreased, as shown below.

The pen mouse and precision-grip mice thus offer about the same advantages as centrally positioned mice. The use of a precision mouse can also result in less muscle strain in the forearms because this involves less wrist extension (Kotani & Horii, 2003; Ulmann, et al., 2003). When it comes to the shoulders, however, there is no difference in muscle strain. After all, this kind of mouse, like a conventional mouse, is often placed next to the keyboard (Müller, et al., 2010; Kotani & Horii, 2003).

Vertical mice
Vertical mice such as the handshake and joystick mice are grasped in a ‘handshake’ position, as shown below. This position keeps the wrist from bending as much to the side while the forearm also turns inward to a lesser degree. In other words, using a vertical mouse decreases ulnar deviation and pronation (Schmid, et al., 2015). This means that muscle activity in the forearm is less than it would be when using a conventional mouse (Quemelo & Vieira, 2013).

Research has shown that the use of a vertical joystick mouse ensures a faster recovery of forearm, wrist and hand complaints (Aarås, et al., 2001). Whether this is the case for all vertical mice, however, is unknown.

The positioning of the mouse
Not only do the shape and the way of controling the mouse have an effect on posture but so does the position of the mouse on the desktop.

The numeric keypad included in a traditional full-size keyboard greatly increases its width, while a large percentage of computer users use this part of the keyboard scarcely if at all. The width of the keyboard keeps the mouse from being positioned in line with the shoulder and thus impairs the user’s working posture. Compact keyboards without a numeric keypad reduce the reaching distance to the mouse and thus decrease strain on the shoulder and forearm, which, in turn, helps to achieve good posture.

Alternatives to the use of mice
Using a mouse is not always the most efficient way of carrying out computer tasks. Tasks can be carried out on an average of 30% faster, for example, by using shortcut keys (Lane, et al., 2005 / Tak, 2007). There are also indications that the use of shortcut keys can enhance work comfort and that users go home in fitter condition if they use more shortcut keys (Blok, et al., 2008). This makes shortcut keys a good solution for consistently reducing mouse use and also for working faster and more efficiently.

Studies have shown that the average computer user is using the mouse for about half the time spent at the computer. To be precise, this is even 53% (IJmker, et al., 2011). By cutting mouse use in half, the user can achieve a production gain of 20 minutes a day. The use of mice will always be necessary, however, because many of the latest applications would be limited or even impossible to use due to the lack of the right shortcut keys.

Performance effects
Research has demonstrated that a mouse on a laptop leads to a definite improvement in performance (Sommerich, et al., 2002). For more information about this, please refer to our whitepaper entitled ‘How to work comfortably with a laptop?’. Replacing a conventional mouse with an ergonomic one will subsequently make a considerable improvement in comfort but will simultaneously decrease performance. Although using an ergonomic mouse is often healthier for you, you cannot work quite as quickly with it as you can with a conventional mouse.

Scott Mackenzie at York University in Canada convincingly demonstrated the lower speed of an ergonomic mouse. He had subjects conduct the same kind of mouse operation many times. Although they increased their speed by practicing with the touchpad and joystick mouse, the graph below shows that their speed was fastest with a conventional mouse, followed by a touchpad and a joystick (MacKenzie, et al., 2001).

Performance effects provided by ergonomic mice

Ergonomic mice are thus somewhat slower to use than a conventional mouse. The difference in performance effect, however, depends on the kind of mouse.

Centrally positioned mice: the roller bar mouse and the touchpad
Studies other than Mackenzie’s also confirmed that a touchpad is definitely slower than a conventional mouse. Depending on the task being carried out, the time needed to accomplish it with a touchpad took at least 25% longer (Hertzum & Hornbaek, 2010; Lee & Su, 2008). This is because using a touchpad requires more than a single movement to carry out the task. The same is true of a central roller bar mouse and a trackball mouse.

Pen tablet and other precision mice
When it comes to carrying out mouse tasks, pen tablets are slower than conventional mice (Müller, et al., 2010). For tasks demanding a high level of precision (e.g. editing photos), however, a pen mouse is faster than a conventional mouse (Chen, et al., 2011). People quickly get used to working with a pen and tablet. After one day of practice, their performance using a pen and tablet equals that of a conventional mouse (Kotani & Horii, 2003). It should also be noted, however, that the tasks in this study were limited to mouse operations. This is not like everyday computer use in which keyboard and mouse operations are constantly alternating. After all, picking up a pen takes more time than grasping a mouse.

Vertical mice
A handshake mouse (a vertically positioned mouse) is 10 to 19% slower than a conventional mouse (Quemelo & Ramos Vieira, 2013; Scarlett, et al., 2005) but is still considerably faster than a joystick mouse (Scarlett, et al., 2005).
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