Which is better for RSI – a trackball or an ergonomic mouse?

Which is better for RSI – a trackball or an ergonomic mouse?  An innocuous enough question you might think but it’s a question we received last week and it started me thinking.  We deal with Health & Safety personnel, ergonomists, physiotherapists, OTs, Facilities Managers and Disability Advisors on a daily basis. But what if you have a musculo-skeletal disorder and you work in a small business without these resources – or you’re self- employed?  Where do you start?  It must be a nightmare!

Excluding colour and size variants, we currently offer more than 20 “pointing devices” on our web site and stock a handful of other products (which we don’t promote but hold to meet the demands of key customers).  We have reviewed countless other products but decided not to add them to our portfolio (see the “Innovation” item in our June 2010 eBulletin) and we have seen patent drawings, prototypes and pre-production information about products yet to come.

Many of these devices are accompanied by research-based claims.  Others are based on a hunch or the personal experience of the designer.  Many of the claims are conflicting.  The one universal truth is that the confidence of their marketing bears little relationship to the credibility of their assertions!

Whilst I would love to be able to say “here is the definitive answer”, it is an ergonomic imperative that no one product will address all needs.  The best I can do is to suggest a series of questions that will help an inexperienced individual to think logically about the issues.  Then, with the help of a knowledgeable person (such as one of our outstanding Customer Service team!) it is possible to arrive at a single product or a short list of products that will be most likely to address the individual’s needs.

The questions:

  • Where is the pain/discomfort (finger, thumb, hand, wrist, forearm, elbow, shoulder)?
  • Left or right side or both?
  • Are you left- or right-handed?
  • Is the pain constant or intermittent?
  • If intermittent, is there any specific activity that brings it on?
  • What do you do on the computer (standard office programs, email, graphic design, accounts, PowerPoint creation, war games, poker, CAD/CAM, etc.)?
  • What pointing device do you use at the moment?
  • Where do you use it (right or left side of keyboard, beside the monitor, on the arm of the sofa, etc.)?
  • If you use a computer at home for long periods, which of these questions would you answer differently for that setup?

Further questions that may or may not be relevant:

  • How important is appearance?
  • Do you have a budget?

These questions address only input device issues.  If your chair is rubbish, your workstation layout diabolical or your general posture is poor then that should also be addressed as part of the process.  Take a look here for really good general posture guidance and then, when you’re ready to “talk pointing devices”, email info@ergonomics.co.uk or click here to request a call back.

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