Mousing Elbow? It Can Be Prevented

“Hey doc, what do you mean I have tennis elbow? I don’t even play the game!”

Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis, as clinically described, refers to a condition that results in soreness to the outside of the elbow and forearm, typically to the dominant arm.  Tennis elbow is classified as an overuse injury though the cause can stem from a sudden blow to the elbow or forceful pull of the forearm. Commonly, micro-tears occur to the extensor forearm muscle tendon near the elbow resulting in pain and discomfort. Pain is most pronounced when grasping objects with the palm down (pronation), shaking someone’s hand, or turning a door knob.

With a move by many employers to go “paperless”, particularly in healthcare with the implementation of an electronic medical records system, computer mouse use has increased dramatically. Navigating through software applications with multiple windows, tabs, and dropdown menus has become extremely mouse-click intensive, setting the stage for a repetitive stress injury such as tennis elbow.  

The risk of developing this condition can be caused by the placement of the mouse on a work surface that requires an awkward extended reach. Additionally, the size and shape of the mouse can be contributing factors depending on the size of the person’s hand as well as overall conditioning of the forearm muscles. 

The good news on tennis elbow is that it’s not permanent if given prompt intervention and opportunity for adequate recovery time. Here are some tips on avoiding tennis elbow related to computer mouse use.

  1. Position the mouse close to the side of the keyboard with minimal reach.
  2. Increase the mouse pointer motion speed to reduce force exertion. The mouse properties are accessed through the computer control panel with the pointer options tab and motion (select a pointer speed) the means of adjustment. 
  3. Take a micro-stretch break every half hour.
  4. Alternate mouse location from the favored side of the keyboard to the opposite side (though this takes some adaptation). 
  5. Learn control key shortcuts for the software application.
  6. If tennis elbow has already resulted (from mouse use), replace the conventional mouse with an “in-line” design.  

For more information on controlling ergonomic risk factor exposure, consult the MEMIC Safety Director and lightly click on the "Solve your Ergonomic Dilemmas!" link.