Mouse Alternatives: Overview & Usage Tips

Revised 2024.02.29

In an attempt to address mouse-related discomfort, it is very common to blame the mouse and begin a search for an alternative pointing device. Unfortunately, any device can cause discomfort if not used properly and a lot of trial and error may be required to find the right solution.

Before you begin the quest for a mouse alternative, it is well worth the effort to be sure that you are using your current mouse correctly. There are some tips on common sources of mouse related discomfort at the links below. Many of these tips also apply to the mouse alternatives that will be discussed later.
If you do decide to try an alternative to your current mouse, there are lots of options. I group them into 3 major categories: those that require gripping, those that require NO gripping and handsfree.

A. Handsfree pointing devices

Technology has spurred great progress in this segment. Initial offerings consisted of mice operated with your foot or a mouth operated joystick. Now the pointer can be controlled by voice or by tracking eye or head movements. Some of these may be a bit awkward to use in a typical office setting and there is a risk of moving strain from one body part to another.

B. Pointing devices that require gripping

The traditional computer mouse needs to be moved while being gripped which can be a source of strain. Mice now come in a variety of shapes and sizes to alter the way the mouse is gripped. One of the major goals of these design changes is to move the hand away from the anatomically problematic “palm down position” towards the “handshake position”. As with most things, there are pros and cons to the various options.

C. Pointing devices that require NO gripping

Because gripping the mouse has been a problem for many of my clients, I have the most experience with this group of pointing devices. For now, I will restrict the discussion to these. Three that I have worked with are the RollerMouse, Touchpads and Trackballs.

C.1. General advice

Before I get into specific advice about each of these, there is some advice that applies to all 3.

C.1.1. Install the device’s software

This will allow you to optimize the device’s settings. For example, you can assign new commands to the device’s buttons or activate draglock (more on this below).
If you don’t have the device’s own software installed, you will be able to adjust some settings (e.g. pointer speed) using standard mouse software.

C.1.2. Give draglock a try (also known as “clicklock”)

Dragging is the most awkward movement for any pointing device since you must move the pointer and keep a button pressed simultaneously. With draglock, you don’t have to keep a button manually pressed while you move the pointer. You can also activate “draglock” with the keyboard using Windows’ MouseKeys or other 3rd party software.

C.2. RollerMouse

One of the great things about the RollerMouse is also a negative for some people. It is positioned in front of the keyboard which addresses another major problem of the traditional mouse (i.e. the sideways reach to a mouse placed beside the keyboard is eliminated). Unfortunately, this requires the keyboard to be pushed back a little farther than is comfortable for some people.

RollerMouse Tips

  • It will increase the reach to your keyboard, so try to keep it as close as possible to you.
  • If you find the reach excessive, try removing the wrist pads to reduce the reach to your keyboard.
  • Watch your your wrist angles. Your wrists may be bending if your hands are on the wrist pads while you move the bar or click the buttons.
  • Pay attention to possible strain in your thumb if you use it to move or click the roller bar. Consider using your fingers.
  • Use the buttons to click instead of pushing down on the bar.
  • Use 2 hands to operate the RollerMouse (i.e. click with one hand and point with the opposite hand)...a great way to reduce the workload on one hand!
  • If you have trouble clicking, try autoclicking software.
  • When pointing (or clicking), any fingers that are not resting on the roller bar should be curled (i.e. not extended above the fingers on the bar).
  • Resting two or more fingers on the bar will help keep them curled.

C.3. Touchpads/Trackpads

There are many examples of these. You will find them on almost all laptop/notebook computers, as stand-alone devices or built into special keyboards.
A relatively recent development with trackpads is the support for trackpad gestures such as two finger scrolling, pinch-to-zoom and more. This has enhanced trackpad usability considerably.

Trackpad Tips

  • If you use your index finger to move the pointer, keep your remaining fingers slightly curled below or level with your index finger (i.e. your middle finger should not be above your index finger).
  • If you hold a button down to drag, use one hand to press the button and the other hand to move the pointer.
  • Look at the device’s software for an additional way to drag without needing to keep a button pressed.
  • To eliminate the sideways reach to the touchpad, you may find it more comfortable to place it in front of your keyboard like the RollerMouse mentioned earlier. This will increase the reach to your keyboard, so monitor your symptoms to be sure this isn't a problem.
  • To minimize shoulder strain, you could use the touchpad on your lap. Velcro or a non-slip mat can be used to keep it from moving.

C.4. Trackballs


Trackball Tips

  • Watch for strain developing in the fingers you use to click (e.g. thumb)
    • Move your hand off of the ball to click with your stronger fingers
    • Try autoclicking software
    • Use your opposite hand to click using the keyboard with Windows MouseKeys or 3rd party software
  • Most mice have scroll wheels. If your trackball does not have one, keep your current mouse connected so you can use it for scrolling and place it on the opposite side of your keyboard. This is a great way to share mousing workload between 2 hands.
  • To reduce the reach to the ball, turn the trackball around so the ball is closer to you (Logitech Trackball software required)
  • Try using the trackball on your lap, if you are experiencing strain from reaching to it next to your keyboard
I hope that you found this helpful. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions.