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Ergonomic Gear For A Better Life

Mice, Not Ice, Baby

The following image sums up a large part of the ergonomic problem surrounding mice, and I attribute it to being the key factor behind my former brush with carpal tunnel syndrome. You can’t keep squeezing the carpal tunnel indefinitely without inflicting damage. After needing a seemingly endless string of cold packs in order to keep working, I managed to relieve my former pain through a combination of increased hand-posture awareness, adoption of a more ergonomically correct mouse, and $15 very well spent on a Fellowes mouse pad with one of those squishy gel pads built in. There’s still some debate in the ergonomic community about such pads, so let’s concentrate on the mouse design aspect.

As Microsoft states in the white paper from which I took this image: “[Proper wrist posture] helps to get the sensitive area of the hand out of contact with the desktop. This area of the hand is just over the carpal tunnel, and previous research has shown that external force applied to this area of the hand has a powerful effect on carpal tunnel pressure. For instance, a 1kg force applied to the most sensitive part of the hand was found to drive carpal tunnel pressure to a mean pressure of 136 mm Hg. Other research has shown that once carpal tunnel pressure begins to exceed 30-40 mm Hg, the pressure begins to interfere with nerve function and circulation. It is thus very important to keep external forces off this area of the hand. Unfortunately, many people rest this area directly on the desktop while using a traditional mouse.”

Given this knowledge, it seems a bit strange that Microsoft packages the symmetrical Wireless Mouse 5000 with the Wireless Comfort Keyboard 5000 desktop combo. True enough, the 5000 ($40 standalone) is a very comfortable mouse, complete with an eight-month battery life, suitability for left-handers, and Microsoft’s new BlueTrack technology. I’m not entirely clear on all the nuances of BlueTrack, but it seems to boil down to combining a blue LED that kicks out a 4X larger beam with a larger image sensor. With a superior image to analyze, the mouse is able to track more accurately. More accuracy means quicker motion completion and thus less time spent with your hand on the mouse.

I don’t know that I could detect a real life accuracy improvement with the 5000 mouse, but my office- and Web-type apps aren’t terribly demanding. Gamers, designers, and similar user types might notice a difference. I did like the hefty weight yet smooth glide of the thing, and being able to store the USB receiver in the base of the mouse is pretty slick. The scroll wheel offers almost no resistance, which is disorienting until you realize that smoother action means less work on the muscles and joints of your index finger.

In contrast, the older Wireless Laser Mouse 6000 ($50 standalone) is the superior ergonomic device. The 6000 feels like a baseball in your hand, forcing you to “palm” the mouse. Meanwhile it forces you to rotate your forearm and only keep the edge of your hand on the mouse pad, thus relieving the pressure from your carpal tunnel. The mouse is very comfortable. After using the 5000, I wish the 6000 had that smoother wheel action (and BlueTrack), but I’m sure Microsoft’s next ergonomic flagship will provide the best of both worlds.

William Van Winkle is a freelance editor and tech journalist who has been writing for more than 20 years. His work has appeared on Tom's Guide, Tom's Hardware, Tom's IT Pro, AMD, Seagate, Computer Shopper, and more. He is also an author, writing poetry, short stories, and science fiction and fantasy books.