Tayla Ansell tries out a selection of ergonomic products designed to prevent repetitive strain injury (RSI) and other computer-related problems.
The terms repetitive strain injury (RSI) and musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) describe a variety of painful disorders of muscles, tendons and nerves, such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, caused by a range of factors including repetitive actions, vibration and poor posture.
In 2016/17, an estimated 8.9 million working days were lost due to work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs), according to the Labour Force Survey.
Those who rely on technology for their jobs can find themselves suffering from a variety of aches and pains in the back, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists and hands caused by unnatural postures and repetitive actions associated with computer use.
Humans aren’t designed to sit at a computer all day. But the fact is many workers have to. For them, prevention is better than cure – and a lot easier.
With that in mind, Business Info has been trying out a variety of ergonomic products for PC users. Some have steeper learning curves than others, but all offer an alternative to the unnatural positions that standard computer peripherals require users to adopt.
Humanscale Switch Mouse
The Humanscale Switch Mouse is tilted so that one’s wrist and forearm rest at a 45-degree angle. This is supposed to be a more natural position that minimises pressure in the carpal tunnel.
The mouse is designed for left- and right-handed users and can be modified by sliding out the stabiliser on the base and fitting it the other way around. It is also extendible, enabling it to be adjusted to suit different sizes of hand.
An integrated palm support prevents ‘wrist anchoring’ (resting the wrist on the desk), by supporting your whole hand. This ergonomic design allows you to move the mouse with your whole arm, rather than just a wrist movement.
The conventional mouse scroll wheel has been replaced with a four-way navigation dish, which also allows for horizontal scrolling. I liked this alternative way of scrolling – holding down a button minimises tendon movement compared to scrolling a wheel – but it does take getting used to.
The Unimouse is another tilted mouse, but unlike the Humanscale Switch Mouse and SRM mouse, it’s adjustable and can be angled from 35 to 70 degrees. An Articulating Thumb Support (ATS) allows you to find your most comfortable holding position and relax your grip.
With the steeper angle and ATS, my hand certainly felt more relaxed compared to a standard mouse. It seemed as though the Unimouse was gliding across the desk, rather than being gripped and dragged.
The Unimouse has ten cursor speeds, from 800-2800 dpi, and six programmable buttons that can be customised for each user. For example, a designer could assign macros to the buttons to speed up workﬂow in Photoshop. This improves productivity but also reduces the amount of clicks needed to complete a task, helpful for those with a lower arm injury.
The wireless Unimouse has an expected battery life of three months and charges via USB. There’s also a wired version.
Bakkerelkhuizen SRM Mouse
The SRMMouse from Bakkerelkhuizen is a vertical mouse designed for smaller hands (up to 7.5cm wide at the widest point, excluding the thumb). The vertical ‘handshake position’ means your wrist and lower arm don’t have to rotate inwards as they do with a traditional mouse, which is claimed to reduce muscle tension.
Out of all the mouse products I tried, this was the quickest to get used to since it’s essentially a standard mouse on its side. There are no extra buttons or features to learn, just one simple option to select mouse sensitivity (400/1600/3200 DPI). You just plug it in and go – a great option for technophobes.
Contour RollerMouse Red
A very different take on the computer mouse, the RollerMouse Red sits below the keyboard and is claimed to provide the most neutral working position. The central position allows you to use both hands and keep your arms straight in front of you, rather than extending one arm to the side.
The unfamiliar design might look intimidating, but I found it surprisingly easy to get used to. The cursor is controlled by sliding the Rollerbar to the left and right and rolling it forwards and backwards. The bar can be pushed down to click, but this can be turned off if required, as there are separate left and right click buttons.
I really appreciated the ‘one touch’ buttons for copy, paste and double click, as they significantly reduce the number of clicks I make each day.
Like the other Contour mouse, this device is highly configurable. It comes with keyboard risers so you can set your keyboard at the most comfortable height and angle; a detachable wrist rest; customisable button functions; five cursor speeds; and the ability to adjust the Rollerbar’s click resistance and click volume.
The Mousetrapper, available from BakkerElkhuizen, is another centralised mouse device. Like the RollerMouse, it offers comfortable wrist support; dedicated copy, paste and double-click buttons; and customisable button functions.
Its main difference is the use of a textured control pad – a little like a laptop touchpad – rather than a roll bar for cursor control, scrolling and left click. There are two pre-set buttons for zooming in and out, though I didn’t find much use for them.
A big advantage of a central mouse like this is that it reduces strain on one part of the hand by letting you alternate between your left and right hand or use both hands at the same time and several fingers.
Goldtouch V2 Adjustable Keyboard
The Goldtouch V2 Keyboard is split in two and can be adjusted for individual requirements. The two segments are connected with a spherical hinge that supports vertical and horizontal tenting of up to 30 degrees, allowing you to fix the keyboard in the position you find most natural and comfortable.
By dispensing with the numeric keyboard found on the right side of traditional keyboards, the compact Goldtouch V2 also reduces reaching distance to a mouse.
I found the split layout tricky to use at first. That said, the user manual does recommend making the adjustments gradually so you can slowly get used to the layout, and after a week of use I could separate the two segments and tent the keyboard vertically without hindering my typing.
Goldtouch wrist-rests are an ideal accessory, supporting each wrist in alignment with each side of the keyboard.