One pervasive “ergonomic” desk accessory is the mouse pad with an elevated wrist rest. There is a growing debate among ergonomic and occupational health experts over the actual need for a wrist rest to perform keyboard and computer mouse work safely.
One school of thought suggests that wrist rests do help align the user’s hands and wrists while typing or mousing, while another suggests that they may encourage users to relax their hand positions too much while typing.
Instead of decreasing the number and severity of carpal tunnel injuries, an improperly used rest may actually cause more repetitive stress injuries (RSI) for those who type or mouse for extended periods of time.
Here are a couple of reasons why wrist rest for mouse pad is dangerous:
1. Compression: When you rest on your wrist, you can compress the blood vessels, tendons, and nerves that travel through your wrist. But you may ask “isn’t it better to rest on the gel than on a hard desk?”. Not necessarily, because often the wrist rest padding is quite stiff, and the presence of the rest makes users think it is good to rest their wrist, so they tend to rest them more often. Resting your wrist for too long can potentially cause inflamed tendons and nerve entrapment.
Solution: Change your desk height (if possible) or your chair height so that your desk is the same height as your elbows. Also, if your desk has an adjustable angle, make sure it is flat or slightly tilted away from you (never toward you). These adjustments help keep your wrist straight while you are using the mouse.
2. Improper mouse movement: In order to reduce the risk of injury and discomfort, the proper way to move the mouse is with whole arm movements that originate at the shoulder. But an elevated wrist rest can get in the way of this. If you try to move your arm, your wrist drags across the wrist rest, so you cannot move the mouse efficiently. Instead, you plant your wrist and control your mouse with small wrist movements.
Solution: Eliminating the use of the wrist rest and moving to an alternative mouse will position the wrist away from the desk and reduce the chance of causing discomfort and pain. Look for a mouse that is designed to keep your wrist off of the desk, preventing compression. Options include larger mice, which support your whole hand so you are not resting on the desk surface, and angled mice, which rotate your wrist (up to 90°) so that you are resting on bone instead of the soft palmar side of your wrist.
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