Don’t let mouse shoulder get you down
So what does mouse shoulder have to do with copywriting, I hear you ask. Well, like most of you who are office-based, I spend around 90% of my working day in front of a screen, manipulating a mouse for hours on end. And even while I’m working from home, I still spend long periods of time using a mouse.
I recently went for a deep tissue massage and was told I had ‘mouse shoulder’. I’ve known for years that a combination of heavy-handbag-wearing, child-carrying and mouse-utilisation were all contributing to a stiff upper back and shoulder joint. But hearing the term mouse shoulder really struck a chord with me. It made me consciously think about all the hours I spend sustaining the same position in front of my screen.
There are several ways to combat mouse shoulder, as well as mouse arm, a manifestation of RSI around the wrist joint. This includes regular massage, once we’re allowed outdoors again. But for now, the immediate action for me has been to remain conscious of my position – and keep changing it – throughout the working day. Following the steps below will prevent the build-up of mouse shoulder or mouse arm over time, which is especially important now that most of us are home-working and may not get as much exercise as we are used to.
In the “office”
Make space to work. First up, if you are slouching on the sofa balancing a laptop on your knees, then stop that right now, and dedicate some space in your home for working. Assemble whatever household items you can – be it a picnic table for a desk or a pouffe for a chair – and create your own work haven, away from the rest of the family.
Raise and lower your seat from time to time (e.g. once a week) so your arm is not constantly outstretched at the same angle with the same group of muscles supporting the weight of your arm all the time. Use cushions if you don’t have an adjustable chair.
Move your arm constantly. I’ve realised it tends to be convenient, and so becomes a habit, to leave your arm in the same resting position while you’re consuming content on the screen between each scroll. Therefore, once you’ve opened up your word doc, webpage or other application, make a conscious effort to move your arm away from the mouse. Move it around, place it behind your back, or even sit on it if you have to, until it’s time to start scrolling again.
Use the up and down arrows on your keyboard instead of your mouse from time to time.
Adopt an ambimoustrous working pattern. Learning to use the mouse with both hands means you share the strain between both of your wrists / arms / shoulders. If this seems unnatural at first, give it a couple of weeks and you’ll notice it becomes a great deal easier.
Bring the mouse closer to your body. Research has shown that holding the mouse with the arm less than 10° abducted (i.e. raised from a lowered position away from the midline of the body) reduces muscle activity by a factor of 25-60%*.
Say it via video. As we advise all of our clients at the moment, try not to rely on email for all of your corporate communications. Instead, set up as many online conferences as you can throughout the week to convey messages to your customers. Not only will this boost your mood by interacting with others, but it will also cut out some of the time you would otherwise be using your mouse.
Outside the “office”
Exercise. During the working day, go for at least one walk (one outside, the rest inside, of course!) to get your whole body moving, including your arms. In addition, take 20 minutes out of the office to carry out some simple shoulder movements. If you’re struggling with some of the definitions here, there are also a wealth of tutorials on YouTube which can help.
Try Pilates or any exercise which focuses on the upper back. If you’re stuck at home craving your next Pilates fix, mytime Pilates are running all of their classes online over the coming weeks. For more details, visit: www.mytimepilates.co.uk. Not only will it help with your general health and wellbeing, but it can really help with your posture and shoulder health.
Muscle therapy. When we’re allowed to venture out again, try to build in some time for more deep tissue or sports massage therapy. Massages may seem like a luxury, but for busy working parents, it’s important to take time out to look after both your mind and your body – in this case your shoulder.
None of us know how long our working routine will face disruption over the coming months, but if your line of business means you sit in front of a screen for long periods, whether at home or in the office, make sure you take care of your shoulder by mixing up that routine and you'll be able to work far more effectively in the long run.
*Effect of Mouse Position on Shoulder Muscle Activity. Alan Hedge & Greg Shaw. Dept. DEA, Cornell University, April, 1996.