Mouse arm

Woman at the laptop likely suffering from mouse arm.

Mouse arm is a frequent complaint at the chiropractic coalface and often the real spoke in the wheel is long hours at a laptop and lack of support for the elbow; it causes what is known as a repetitive strain injury.

This page was last updated by Dr Barrie Lewis on 21st July, 2019.

Yes, there is neck discomfort, shoulder and upper limb ache, and maybe tingling in the hands; and perhaps talk of carpal tunnel syndrome, but which is the chicken, or could it be the egg? Simply getting your stool and computer setup correct is the first step.

If the table is too high, or the stool too low, and there's no support for her elbow, then granny is soon going to be consulting her chiropractor.

Granny clearly knows more about the music keyboard than she does of the internet. Consider the first mistake, which is actually her son's.

Her son who is continually on the move, and can't do without his laptop, decided on a mother's day present. She's always complaining she can't chat to her daughter and grandchildren who've moved to Toronto. Now she can Skype them every weekend.

But he made a mistake; granny isn't continuously on the move like he is. Her computer stays right here; it never shifts and she should have a regular Apple or PC tower, not a laptop.

Posture like this leads to repetitive strain injuries, and she's like to find her way in our arm pain case histories file.

Mouse arm

Mouse arm is in epidemic proportions; is your laptop the guilty party?

Arm pain is in epidemic proportions; is your computer the guilty party?

With laptops there's a trade off. Either the keyboard is too high, or the screen is too low. It doesn't affect her son, because he never spends more than ten or fifteen minutes in one place.

But Granny has become increasingly attached to her new toy. She often spends a couple hours at a time online. And her arm is starting to ache, and her fingers are beginning to tingle. The doctor is talking of an operation for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Focus now for a moment on granny's mouse arm. The laptop is about the right height for her neck. Her eyes are the same height as the top of the screen, and the posture of her cervical spine is not bad.

But just look at her mouse arm.

Do not go for that operation, Granny, and don't even go to the chiropractor; first tell you son to please come and fetch the laptop and replace it with a real computer. You must be able to raise and lower the keyboard and screen independently. There is a fair chance that alone will fix the tingling in your arms and hands.

Is it bilateral; in both arms? Then you do need to see your chiropractor, particularly if it's in all the fingers except the pinkie. You might well also be getting carpal tunnel syndrome.

I'm sure you've learned by now that emails are delivered on Sundays; public holidays too.

Can you see Granny's second mistake?

A pianist's arms and hands should point down.

Tingling in arms and hands

Tingling in arms and hands is by far the most read page at Bernard Preston's chiropractic and better health site; these symptoms often accompany arm pain.

Musicians have to be very conscious of posture; they also have to keep moving. That's why they sway and bob in what I naively used to think was ostentatiousness. Not so; the alternative is aching deep upper back pain and tingling in arms and hands.

Never go for a carpal tunnel operation if the tingling includes the pinkie. Classically it should go right through the median nerve distribution, from the thumb to the ring finger. 

  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
  • Pronator teres syndrome causes severe pain radiating down lower arm to fingers.
Hands must point down to prevent mouse-arm.

Now, if you look at granny's arm, you can see that it clearly points up. If she's spending no more than say ten or fifteen minutes at a time at her laptop, she'll probably be fine. But if she gets hooked on the internet then, she setting herself up for shoulder and arm pain, and tingling in arms and hands, and worse; perhaps a frozen shoulder.

And insomnia, too. Arm pain is often worse at night, wakening sufferers at various unearthly hours. Probably not just because of poor computer posture, but that will certainly aggravate any neck issues that are causing the ache in the upper limb.

Older folk don't sleep well at the best of times, often because they don't get enough exercise.

But add another spoke to the wheel like arm pain and next thing she'll be needing sleeping tablets from the doctor; and they are one of the causes of senile dementia. Read more lower down about the side effects of anticholinergic medicines.

Sometimes there's another underlying problem; one that has been silent all these years, like cervical ribs or an old whiplash injury that has caused mild cervical stenosis. Neck and arm symptoms like tingling and numbness lie in wait.

This cervical rib casefile is an example of what I mean.

Notice the piano keyboard behind granny. It's at the right height, much lower than the laptop keyboard. At the piano, her arms will point down.

So, what's to be done?

Well, she could raise her stool, or find a lower table for the laptop. The problem then is that that screen will be too low for her eyes and she'll have to crane her neck downwards. That's not good; then she'll start suffering from neck pain. 

A much better solution is this adjustable keyboard tray. It can be slid away when not in use, and the angle can be adjusted for maximum comfort of wrists and fingers.

However, the elbow also needs to be supported. In particular for the mouse arm. One simple solution is an office chair with arm rests; another is a small table placed at her right elbow to support her mouse arm.

Good computer desk.


Chiropractic is directed at locating the cause rather than treating the symptoms; that means starting with your computer station in the first instance if you are suffering from arm pain.

In short, are you suffering from shoulder pain and tingling in arms and hands, and spending long hours at the computer?

Think first of your computer station. Get professional advice, choose the right desks and office chairs, not the cheapest, or you'll most likely be spending the difference at the chiropractor having your arm pain treated; another angle on this subject.

And if you're buying a computer for Mum, plan forward just a little.

Stiff neck exercises

Stiff neck exercises, sensibly done, can make a substantial contribution to your discomfort; the neck and arm pain are irrevocably connected, especially neurologically. 

Neanderthal man exercises for a stiff neck.

Got the right computer, the correct computer station, good posture, and still suffering from neck and arm pain? Then perhaps it's time for these Stiff Neck Exercises for Neck Pain ...

Sleeping tablets

Granny should be walking every day, at least twenty minutes, with a stick if necessary, and longer if possible. Otherwise there's a broken hip on the way, sleeping tablets and other horrors.

Fifty percent of Americans are taking these sorts of medicines, not knowing that anticholinergic side effects are accumulative and very serious. Together they form a large part of the third most deadly disease on Earth; iatrogenic, doctor-caused disease. That is far worse than arm pain.

Dr Barrie Lewis is a semi-retired chiropractor, passionate about better health, and things green; arm pain is still an every day complaint in the clinic.

He has published six books, available on this site and is busy with his seventh: the first married pope in a thousand years. Hence he knows about the setup at the computer; he spends long hours there and would be suffering from arm and shoulder too if he wasn't smart.

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