A mouse is a mouse is a mouse? Not hardly. From vertical mice, to trackballs, to laser-pointer-style pen mice, you can find a whole brood of ergonomic approaches to mousing comfort. The common aim: minimizing the threat of repetitive strain injuries you may incur from using a mouse and keyboard for many hours each day. Repetitive strain injuries—often called RSIs for short—are a set of musculoskeletal disorders caused by holding an unnatural position for too long, or by repeating the same motion over and over again. Typing on a keyboard and using a mouse have both been known to cause RSIs after years of using a computer every day, and these ailments tend to manifest initially as pain, weakness, or numbness in your fingers and wrists.
A poor office setup can also lead to pain in your back and shoulders. (Note: If any of these symptoms sounds familiar, please consult a doctor.) Ergonomic mice are designed to limit or eliminate movements that have been known to cause these injuries or aggravate them in people who already suffer from RSIs. There is no ironclad proof that they can actually prevent RSIs, but they are more comfortable for people who already experience pain when using a standard mouse.
Picking an ergonomic mouse can be a bit tricky, though. Unlike ergonomic keyboards, where there are two prominent types (curved and split layouts) that create a sliding scale of balancing familiarity and ergonomic benefit, ergonomic mice are more varied in design, and can convey different benefits. Some mice reduce strain on your wrist but still require you to overextend a finger or thumb, where others may still oblige you to twist your wrist but keep hand movements to a minimum, preventing motions that could lead to damage over time.
They also aren’t for everyone. Across the board, these mice tend not to be quite as precise as a more traditional design. (That’s not necessarily down to lesser hardware, as I’ll get to in a moment.) They’re perfectly fine for everyday tasks—word processing, web browsing, using productivity apps like Slack and Zoom—but I’ve yet to use one that didn’t hamper my performance while playing video games, or slow me down with certain apps that demand ultra-precise pointing and cursor movement, like those of Adobe’s Creative Suite.
Again, these designs vary a lot, so you’re likely to find that one works better for you than the others. With that in mind, let’s break down the different kinds of ergo mice that we’ve reviewed and consider relevant.
In 2020, the design that comes to mind when most of us hear the phrase “ergonomic mouse” is vertical. The shape is basically a conventional mouse turned 90 degrees, or the base of a mouse with a second sideways one stacked on top of it, which allows you to grip it without twisting your arm. Think of a handshake instead of holding the device with your palm down.
Meanwhile, the click panels and face buttons have been rotated to the side of the mouse, where they’re accessible with the same finger motions that you’d make using a standard mouse. Turning the mouse to meet your hand, rather than turning your hand to grip the mouse, removes strain on your arm, and lets you use a more natural wrist motion to move laterally.
The downside to the vertical mouse can be its degree of accuracy. The shape, which moves your hand higher up the body and thus more removed from the mouse sensor, changes the correlation between how you move your hand and how the cursor moves. Even after spending multiple weeks with a vertical mouse, I’ve found that it takes me an extra small adjustment to line up the pointer with a small icon. That may go away over time, but it’s a significant change that you should know about if you want to go down this road.
Despite this, the vertical mouse will be the best ergonomic mouse option for most people. It mitigates the musculoskeletal issues caused by overusing a standard mouse, while retaining most of the experience of using one. For gamers and creative professionals, who may not be able to use one all the time, the answer may be having two mice—a vertical model for everyday use, and a curved, palm-supporting conventional mouse for occasional precision work.
The trackball is a longstanding alternative to the traditional mouse that’s had a cult following for decades. Instead of moving the mouse around to maneuver the cursor, a trackball tracks the directional movement of a sphere mounted in a housing with buttons to mirror a standard mouse’s inputs. You can operate a trackball with very little arm movement and no “grip,” both of which can lead to or exacerbate repetitive strain injuries.
You’ll see two primary types of trackballs: thumb-operated, and finger-operated. As with ergonomic keyboards, the two versions offer a sliding scale of familiarity, making it easy for new users to convert, versus the ergonomic benefit. Thumb-operated trackballs, like the ones on this list, are shaped like standard mice, which makes them more approachable. However, as The Wirecutter points out, using a thumb-based trackball extensively has the potential to do specific damage to muscles in your thumb over time. Finger-operated trackballs may require a longer adjustment period, as you use a different fingering, but do not put any additional strain on your thumb or fingers. [And it comes down to individual physiology, too. The editor of this story has used a thumb-control trackball, the Microsoft Trackball Optical, daily for more than 15 years with no ill effects. —Ed.]
Both styles are an acquired taste, though. You will have to try a trackball to really know whether or not it’ll work for you. People tend to figure out pretty quickly whether or not they prefer twirling a trackball to pushing and pulling a standard mouse. In a pre-pandemic time, I’d recommend finding a shop where you might be able to try one before buying. Now, if you’re interested in the idea, I’d say take the plunge, but make sure you can send the hardware back if it isn’t a good fit.
The least common ergonomic mouse we’ve covered, the pen mouse, is a bit of an oddity. (Don’t confuse these with simple styli used on a touch screen.) Some, like the mice from Penclic, look like a fountain pen sticking out of an inkwell: You grip them like a pen, but push them on a mousepad or surface like a standard mouse. Others take the concept further, essentially swapping out the mouse for a laser pointer that you can point at a surface and move to adjust the relative position of your cursor.
Regardless of the iteration, the pen mouse does not force you to twist your wrist to lie flat on the mouse. And, given the small physical size of these mice, it’s easy to find a position that minimizes arm movement. Last, putting all of the mouse buttons and actions on the pen reduces the strain caused by awkward button placements on a standard mouse.
I still see the pen-style grip as a source of concern, ergonomically speaking. Curling your fingers around a mouse, as you would a pen, for many hours a day over a period of years seems like a recipe for a specific form of repetitive strain injury over time. That said, holding a pen requires much less grip strength than using a mouse, so this may only be a concern for people with severe pain in their wrists or fingers.
If you do not already have symptoms of an RSI, you may not want to deal with the tradeoffs of getting a specialized ergonomic mouse: less accuracy, an adjustment period that will lead to some short-term productivity loss, and so on. If that’s the case, you can still do yourself a solid and buy a mouse with a comfortable, supportive shape. Mice come in all shapes and sizes, and buying one that feels good in your hand is one of the most important factors when making that decision.
If at all possible, buy a mouse fitted to your dominant hand. Mice are “fitted” one way or the other, in part, because manufacturers can create more specific and supportive shapes. Unfortunately, very few companies make left-hand-specific mice, so lefties may have to pick from a small set of specialty options, or find a well-shaped ambidextrous mouse.
Beyond that, ergo-positive traits really do vary from mouse to mouse. Certain features imply more support, such as a “thumb wing” or rest for your opposable digit, but having one doesn’t guarantee comfort. Plus, some companies definitely skew toward different hand shapes. Gaming-mouse manufacturer Corsair, for example, makes many well-shaped mice, but I find their wares feel like they’d be most comfortable for users with large hands. I’d recommend looking at our reviews for more specific information about different mouse shapes, as they do vary quite a bit and many of our reviews discuss how mice fit into your hand.
Now that we’ve described all the different kinds of ergonomic mice, you hopefully have some idea of what kind you want to go out and try. This roundup offers a rundown of the best we’ve tested, with detailed reviews. If you want to know more about the universal rules to picking a great mouse, check out our guide to the best computer mice, which has an in-depth explainer on the topic.Source