A mouse elbow injury causes pain and muscle weakness that can make it nearly impossible to work on a computer. Over half of the American workforce uses computers on the job. An injury that limits our ability to use a computer can be a serious hit to our job and career, especially since mouse elbow is typically accompanied by persistent chronic symptoms. Mouse elbow (a.k.a. computer elbow, lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow) is typically caused by the repetition of computer use. Thus, those most likely to suffer the injury are the people whose lives will be most affected by mouse elbow pain due to loss of productivity.
Taking simple steps like improving your typing posture, adjusting your mouse placement, and stretching and strengthening your muscles are huge steps toward reducing your mouse elbow pain or preventing an injury altogether.
Mouse elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is the degeneration and inflammation of the tendons on the outside of your elbow. You may have heard it called "tennis elbow" because it's common in tennis players who grip their rackets too tight and are repetitively swinging their arms overhead—but funny enough, less than 5% of cases of the injury are related to tennis. Rather, these days the majority of people suffering from lateral epicondylitis acquired the injury from frequent computer use.
Mouse or computer elbow is a result of repetitive stress on the lateral forearm muscles that attach to the outside of the elbow. When you do certain activities over and over, particularly with faulty mechanics, eventually it becomes too much for your muscles and tendons to take. Some of the activities that can cause mouse elbow:
Diagnosing and addressing mouse elbow early makes treatment much easier and can prevent unnecessary long term complications. Here are a few mouse elbow symptoms to watch for.
Once you've identified your symptoms as mouse elbow, you'll need to start treating the injury immediately. The good news is that you probably don't need to see a doctor, except maybe a physical therapist for guidance of proper ergonomics and exercise. Mouse elbow is usually easy to treat with simple stretches and exercises and some changes and additions to your computer set-up.
Stretching can help reduce the inflammation in your tendons and muscles and relieve pain via blood flow. Stretching is great for quick relief to get you back to work. When your pain flares, stop what you're doing and try these stretches.
Make a fist with your thumb straight, not tucked under your fingers. Slowly slide your fingertips up your palm, toward the base of your fingers, and away from your palm so that your hand is in a claw-like position. You should feel a stretch from your palm all the way to your fingertips. Hold ten seconds, and repeat 3-5 times.
Sit and stretch your arm out in front of you, with the elbow straight and palm facing downward. Use your opposite hand to bend the wrist and push the hand further down toward the floor. Hold for ten seconds and repeat up to 10 times.
With your hand extended and palm facing down, rotate your wrist away from the body until you feel a stretch. Hold it for ten seconds. Next, rotate your hand to the inside instead, attempting to turn your palm up toward the ceiling while keeping your elbow steady. Repeat 3-5 times. This stretch will loosen up your wrist and forearm and get you ready to type.
For more details on stretching the lateral forearm, see our in depth list of tennis elbow stretches. Tennis elbow and mouse elbow both lead to inflammation of the lateral epicondylitis, meaning the most beneficial stretches for the elbow are practically the same for each.
Strengthening the muscles in your forearm decreases the pressure on your tendons with better blood flow for healing and muscle balance, easing the pain from mouse elbow. Do these exercises two to three times a day to relieve your mouse elbow pain over the long term. The exercises only take a few minutes. Remember, consistency is key for completely getting rid of your pain.
Using a stress ball or balled up sock helps to build up grip strength and develop muscles to relieve pressure on tendons ( Image Reference).
Hold a rolled-up sock in your hand. (A tennis ball or stress ball also works well.) Squeeze your fist around the sock. Squeeze tightly for six slow seconds, and then relax. Repeat 8-12 times for each hand. This exercise improves your grip strength and develops the muscles in your hands and forearms to promote better tissue health in the elbow and forearm.
For this exercise, use a dumbbell or any heavy household object—such as a can or a water bottle. Sit with your legs slightly spread and your left hand on your thigh. Holding the weight in your right hand, place your right elbow on your thigh and extend your forearm horizontally. Slowly curl the weight toward your chest without removing your elbow from your thigh. Slowly lower back to the starting position. Repeat 8-12 reps and then switch arms. You can also do this exercise in standing.
Bring all five fingertips together, and place a rubber band or finger extensor tool around your fingers. Spread your fingers until you feel resistance on the band. Repeat 10-20 reps for each hand.
Wrist strengthening exercises with light weights are also vital for managing mouse elbow or tennis elbow. As illustrated several times, you will benefit from strength exercises that help address tennis elbow. See our full list of exercises here.
Use specialized desk equipment and braces to prevent and relieve mouse elbow pain. This equipment is easy to implement, and it doesn't have to be expensive. And you can bet it will make a huge difference in your pain levels—or protect you from an injury from the start. Here are a few examples of simple switches you can make to help improve your posture and reduce the amount of stress placed on your elbows and wrists.
An ergonomic mouse allows your hand to rest in a neutral position and relieves stress typically placed on your wrist and fingers when using a traditional mouse ( Image Reference).
Using a traditional mouse for a prolonged period of time is uncomfortable and leads to injury. An ergonomic mouse is a much better option. You can find tons of different designs, but all ergonomic computer mouses are built to keep your hand in a neutral position and reduce the amount of stress placed on your wrist and fingers. A vertical mouse can keep your wrist in a more natural position as well. The mouse looks like a handle, and you use your thumb to click. Other designs mimic the contours of your hand, with cutouts for your thumb. No matter what type of ergonomic mouse you choose, make sure it's wireless so you're able to keep your elbow at a comfortable angle.
Using a mouse pad that extends to support your arm helps to keep the wrist positioned at a natural angle ( Image Reference).
Oftentimes, using a computer mouse places our wrist at an unnatural extended angle. Over time, this leads to stress on our forearm and elbow and, eventually, a mouse elbow injury. An ergonomic mouse pad has a raised cushion to support your wrist. This keeps your wrist at a neutral angle, reducing the stress on your forearm and preventing injury.
An ergonomic keyboard keeps the wrists and forearms in a neutral position ( Image Reference).
While typing on a standard keyboard, the angles of your elbow and wrist can feel out of sync as you attempt to reach the appropriate keys while typing. This unnatural position places stress on your joints and eventually leads to injury. Ergonomic keyboards correct this by keeping your elbows and wrists in relative alignment for the majority of your typing, while also keeping your wrists and forearms neutral. A few features to look out for in an ergonomic keyboard:
Look for a desk chair that provides lower back support to encourage proper posture ( Image Reference).
When our posture is poor, our entire body suffers, including our elbows because of the way it throws our system out of alignment. An ergonomic desk chair supports your lower back while promoting good posture. Like keyboards, there are many different types of ergonomic chairs, but all good options have a few features in common.
Using a mouse elbow brace while performing aggravating activities like typing can significantly reduce pain associated with mouse elbow. A mouse elbow brace or strap applies pressure to the extensor muscles in your forearm and reduces tension through the length of the muscles.
Mouse elbow braces come in three variations:
This type of brace consists of a plastic clasp secured with a strap. The clasp has a pressure point near the point of pain, which promotes blood flow to the area, relaxation, and provides excellent biofeedback to the elbow, while also changing the angle of your tendon to relieve pain. A clasp is the most effective option for pain relief, but it comes with the highest price tag and requires an individualized fitting to do its job.
The best mouse elbow strap provides isolated compression to the tendons located just below your elbow ( Image Reference).
A strap is a simple type of brace that wraps around the forearm, just below the elbow. By compressing the upper forearm, the strap takes the pressure off your extensor muscles and relieves pain. Some have additional pressure pads to be even more effective. Straps are inexpensive and adjustable, and they're the best option for most people suffering from mouse elbow.
Use of kinesiology tape is a great short term solution as you learn to manage your elbow pain symptoms. Placing a piece of tape across your lateral elbow can provide slight support and give you great feedback with your daily tasks to help you move with better mechanics. Initially, talk to your physical therapist about which technique is best for your elbow. Then, you can learn to apply it to your own elbow at home as needed.
For more elbow taping tips, look here.
A mouse elbow support or compression sleeve keeps the tendons loose and provides support throughout your daily activities ( Image Reference).
A mouse elbow sleeve combines a typical elbow sleeve and a mouse elbow strap. It provides compression over the entire area while applying pressure to the forearm, just below the elbow. A sleeve keeps the entire elbow warm and receptive to movement (known as proprioception), which may aid in the healing process. It also provides mild support, so if you have other injuries causing weakness in the joint, a mouse elbow sleeve is a terrific option. It is more cumbersome and can be inconvenient for some people, and the forearm strap is less accurate than a separate mouse elbow strap.
To relieve pain and swelling, use therapy along with equipment, stretches, and exercises. A physical therapist can teach you plenty of ways to relieve your pain, but here are a few simple options to get you started.
Cold therapy can help numb the area and reduce inflammation. Place a cold pack or specialized elbow sleeve (that also provides beneficial compression) on the area after exertion to relieve pain and swelling. Use a t-shirt or thin rag to protect your skin, not a towel because it’s too thick. Use ice for 10-15 minutes until the area feels numb. Do not keep the ice on longer than 15 minutes.
Use of a heating pad or warming gel can also relieve pain and promote healing. However, since mouse elbow is accompanied by inflammation it is always best to follow your heat therapy session with ice. You can alternate between the two temperatures during the day, always ending with ice. Apply heat to the affected area for up to 20 minutes at a time. If you’re working with a physical therapist, they might also utilize ultrasound to promote even deeper tissue heating and healing.
Soft tissue work can be painful, but you will feel so much better afterward! Using your thumb or knuckles, feel for a knot in your elbow. Press your fingers into the muscle and rub in a circular motion. You may be sore afterward, but when the soreness subsides the muscle will feel looser and less painful. The key is to apply as much pressure as you can tolerate without the muscles tensing up. To combine icing and massage, freeze water in a small paper cup or grab a cold massage ball roller. Peel the paper away from the ice, and roll the "ice cup" over the painful area.
Using anti-inflammatory medication can reduce swelling, which relieves pain and stiffness. Consider an oral medication, like ibuprofen, or a topical medication, like Voltaren Gel. Keep in mind that medication comes with side effects so discuss any concerns with your doctor.
While cutting back on computer use is not an option for most of us, especially when our jobs are dependent on typing and clicking (although you should for a while if you can), there are plenty of easy ways to prevent mouse elbow due to overuse.
Proper typing posture is one of the simplest things you can do to drastically reduce your risk of developing mouse elbow.
It may take some time to get used to the new posture, but once you do, you'll have taken a major step toward preventing an injury.
Be sure to position the mouse and keyboard shoulder-distance apart and as level as possible ( Image Reference).
Be sure to position the mouse and keyboard are shoulder-distance apart and as level as possible
Keep your desk tidy and neat to avoid reaching for objects and stretching across piles of papers. This helps keep your muscles relaxed and posture optimized .
Routine finger stretches and breaks from your computer help to alleviate symptoms related to computer elbow ( Image Reference).
Simple finger stretches keep your hands relaxed and mobile. Bend your fingers back toward your forearm, or flick them outward as though flicking off water. These stretches only take a second. Create a habit of taking routine stretch breaks from your computer to help alleviate symptoms related to computer elbow, at least every couple of hours.
Strengthening the muscles in your forearms keeps the tendons mobile and healthy. Keep up with regular exercises that address strength in the hand, wrist, forearm, and even elbow. Incorporate the exercises in this article into your daily routine or try these tennis elbow exercises.
Mouse elbow is painful, frustrating, and can take over your life in a second. Everything becomes painful—typing, carrying groceries, shaking hands with a new friend. Symptoms can be nagging, and mouse elbow is not an injury that will go away on its own. Take care of yourself by implementing changes to your work space and taking regular breaks to stretch and exercise your muscles. If you've already developed mouse elbow, ease the pain with a mouse elbow brace and home therapy. And if the injury doesn't improve, see your doctor. Mouse elbow may sound strange, but it's not an injury that anybody wants to deal with. Start improving your work habits now so you can type, point, and click to your heart's content!