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A mouse elbow injury causes pain and muscle weakness that makes 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 persistent. And since mouse elbow (a.k.a. computer elbow or tennis elbow) is typically caused by the repetition of computer use, those most likely to suffer the injury are the people whose lives will be most affected by mouse elbow pain.
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—but funny enough, less than 5% of cases of the injury are related to tennis. 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 forearm. When you do certain activities over and over, eventually it becomes too much for your muscles and tendons to take. Some of the activities that can cause mouse elbow:
Catching mouse elbow early makes treatment much easier. Here are a few mouse elbow symptoms to watch for.
While cutting back on computer use is not an option for most of us, especially when our jobs are dependent on typing and clicking, there are plenty of easy ways to prevent mouse elbow.
Proper typing posture is one of the simplest things you can do to drastically reduce your risk of developing mouse elbow. Keep your forearms and upper arms at a ninety-degree angle by adjusting your chair up, down, backward, and forward. Relax your shoulders. Shrugging and tensing your shoulders results in tension in your wrists and forearms, which increases 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).
Avoid having to reach for your mouse. Stretching for your mouse and gripping it too tightly increases the tension in your muscles and the chance of injury. A wireless mouse is an easy solution.
Keep your desk tidy and neat to avoid reaching for objects and stretching across piles of papers. This helps keep your muscles relaxed.
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 stretching when you break for a sip of coffee.
Strengthening the muscles in your forearms takes stress off your tendons. Here's a simple exercise that only takes a few minutes a day: Holding a water bottle or can, lay your forearm on your desk with the bottle or can extended off the edge. Let your wrist flop over the edge with your palm facing down. Extend your wrist upward until your hand is parallel with your forearm. Repeat 10-15 reps a few times a day.
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. Mouse elbow is easy to treat with simple stretches and exercises and some changes and additions to your computer set-up.
Stretching helps reduce the inflammation in your tendons and muscles and relieve pain. 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. Check out the stretches in the Youtube video above!
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.
Sitting with your elbows out and your palms together, slowly rotate your palms down until you feel a stretch in your forearm. Hold the position for ten seconds, and repeat 3-5 times. This stretch loosens the muscles in your forearms, as well as improving wrist flexibility.
With your hand extended and palm facing down, rotate your wrist to the extreme right until you feel a stretch. Hold it for ten seconds, and then rotate to the left, keeping your palm facing the floor. Repeat 3-5 times. This stretch will loosen up your wrist and forearm and get you ready to type.
Strengthening the muscles in your forearm decreases the pressure on your tendons, 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 take pressure off your tendons.
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 for each arm.
Bring all five fingertips together, and place a rubber band around your fingers. Spread your fingers until you feel resistance on the band. Repeat 10-20 reps for each hand.
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 natural 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 natural position and reduces the amount of stress placed on your wrist and fingers. A vertical mouse keeps your wrist in a neutral position. 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 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, your elbows angle in while your wrists angle out to line up with the keys. This unnatural position places stress on your joints and eventually leads to injury. Ergonomic keyboards correct this, 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. 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 absorbs some of the injury-causing forces 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 of 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.
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, which may aid in the healing process. It also provides 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 on the area after exertion to relieve pain and swelling. Use a towel or rag to protect your skin.
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. To combine icing and massage, freeze water in a small paper cup. 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.
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!
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