I cured my mouse shoulder pain with a new keyboard
For years I had shoulder pain after long hours in front of the computer, but I solved the problem by changing the keyboard. It worked for me, and I hope it will work for you too.
What is “mouse shoulder” pain?
When people think of workplace injuries, they usually think of serious injuries as serious injuries caused by an accident with machinery or the like. But for many people whose jobs involve making small movements over and over again, injuries more often take the form of repetitive stress injuries (RSI).
You end up with shoulder pain not because you blew your rotator cuff, but because you had poor posture and poor ergonomics at your workstation. And even when you do your best to pay attention to ergonomics, you sometimes end up with a problem on your hands.
This is the situation I found myself in with a nagging, throbbing pain in my shoulder, a type of pain I later found out is called “mouse shoulder” because of the way prolonged and poorly optimized use of the mouse leads to pain.
Although the pain tends to be multifaceted – people experience everything from a stabbing sensation in the ball of the shoulder to general tightness and tenderness in the shoulder as a whole to a stiff neck and headaches – it’s the throbbing pain that usually makes most people feel “something”. my shoulder hurts.
This throbbing pain in the front of the shoulder that seems to come from just below the anterior deltoid is usually caused by irritation of the biceps tendon. It’s not the deltoid that hurts in this case, it’s the top of the biceps and the associated tendon that runs under the deltoid.
While there are a variety of factors that can contribute to mouse shoulder, including how tall or high your desk (or keyboard tray) is relative to your body, how long (and with what activity ) you use your mouse per day, etc. there is a very overlooked factor that has taken me way too long to focus on.
While I can’t promise that what worked for me will work for you, I sincerely hope that many people reading this article find relief for their computer-induced shoulder pain in the same way I did. .
Why This Common Keyboard Causes Shoulder Pain
Over the years, I have made various adjustments to the ergonomics of my workstation in an effort to alleviate what was causing my shoulder pain.
First, I switched from a regular mouse to a trackball mouse which actually helped reduce the pain. By moving my hand, arm and shoulder less – with a trackball the mouse is stationary and you just move your thumb or fingers – the degree of shoulder irritation has decreased.
There are many excellent ergonomic mice on the market, but I’ve been a long-time fan of the Logitech line of trackball mice like the Logitech MX Ergo.
After that I added a adjustable keyboard tray so I can type and use the mouse with a negative tilt to relieve pressure on my wrists (and hopefully my shoulder as well). Again, it helped (it was great for my wrists!), but it just reduced the pain a bit.
I even mixed in a really comfortable and adjustable frame Steelcase Leap Chair so I could make sure my arms were supported at the correct height. The chair turned out to be the most comfortable office chair I’ve ever owned and helped me in many ways, but it wasn’t the magic bullet for the shoulder problem.
Then one day, almost entirely by accident, I came across a painless way to use the mouse. I had banged the keyboard on the left side (I’m right-handed) and the mouse was closer to the midline of my body. I realized there was no pain in my shoulder. It was still painful, but it was residual pain and not new irritation from using the mouse at the time.
The only problem now was that the keyboard was so hopelessly off center that there was no way for me to use the mouse in the least painful place and type on the keyboard without contorting my body a way that was just going to cause further pain elsewhere.
The keyboard I had – the same keyboard as millions of people around the world – is what’s called a “full-size”, “100%”, or “104-key” computer keyboard. Full-size keyboards have the standard set of letters, numbers, and basic keys, plus the home key and arrow cluster, and then a full calculator-style number pad at the end. Jumbo keyboards have been the standard format for over forty years.
The all-and-the-kitchen-sink approach leads to a board width of approximately 18 inches. The distance from the center of the home row’s finger placement (the gap between the G-key and the H-key) to the edge of the board ends up being about 13 inches.
With those distances, practically, the closest a person using a standard 104-key keyboard to the right numpad can get their right mouse to the center of the keyboard is about 16 to 20 inches depending on whether they used a trackball or a standard mouse and the space they need to use it.
As a result, most people using such a large keyboard are forced to deviate their arm from the central axis of their body by about 10 to 15 degrees. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but the ideal angle would be zero degrees out of alignment, with your arm positioned in a neutral position at 90 degrees to the plane of your torso. The further your arm is from the midline, the more pressure and discomfort you will feel in your shoulder when using the mouse.
Thus, millions of people around the world use a keyboard layout that requires them to hold their arm at a slightly too extended angle, which greatly increases their risk of computer-related injuries and pain.
Switching to a Tenkeyless card banished my pain
We talked about what causes mouse shoulder. We talked about how the majority of people around the world, myself included, for many years have been using a very large keyboard that is not ergonomic. What is the solution ?
The solution is to ditch the numeric keypad and swap your bulky full-size 104-key keyboard for a shortcut model, known as a ten-keyless or 87-key keyboard.
A keyless keyboard is 80% the width of a 104-key keyboard and has essentially the same design in all respects except for the missing number pad. Dropping the number pad reduces the length of the board by about 4 inches and allows you to pull the mouse more firmly. Pulling the mouse harder relieves the strain on your shoulder.
It sounds too good to be true, but after years of the same persistent shoulder pain when I switched from a full-size keyboard to a keyless keyboard, my pain is gone.
I haven’t had any physical therapy, stretches or fancy exercises, or anything beyond switching to a keyboard that allowed me to move my trackball mouse more tightly and reduce the extension angle from these 10-15 degrees to more like 0- 3 degrees. What shocked me the most was that the pain subsided almost immediately. A few days after making the adjustment, he left and never came back.
While I’ve spent all these years beating on a WASD keypadyou don’t have to shell out over $150 for a keyless keyboard, although I have nothing but good things to say about the Code.
There are many very reasonably priced keyless mechanical keyboards on the market for less than $100, such as the Origins of HyperX Alloy or the incredibly economical Redragon K552. I never thought a mechanical keyboard under $40 would be worth it, but the K522 is great value for money.
At this point you couldn’t afford me to go back to using a full size board. If I really needed a number pad, I’d rather buy a detachable and learn how to use it with my left hand rather than going back to having persistent shoulder pain. And I hope after reading this you will give keyless keyboards a try and also enjoy the same experience without shoulder pain.