Put an end to shooting wrist pain while mousing at your computer

Article by John Lee, CSWE updated June 25, 2019


Repetitive strain injury seems to happen to some of us, notably CAD users who just want to go faster and faster to get more done in less time.  There’s so much mousing…somehow our mousing hand and arm seem to suffer from trying to work too fast, and before we know it we’re experiencing shooting pain in the wrist.

Repetitive strain injury

Repetitive strain injury

This happened to me while working in industry and trying to push my speed limits while using SOLIDWORKS.  Once the shooting pain became ongoing throughout my workday, I had to make a decision.

Disclaimer: This is not qualified medical advice, just some lessons learned from years of using CAD.  If in doubt, seek the advice of a qualified medical doctor.

Here were some things I could try:

  1. Take time off work
  2. Seek professional treatment
  3. Continue to suffer, with possibly eventual loss of use of that hand for mousing work.  In a prior employment, we referred to such a choice as a “career-ending move”.
  4. Abandon the workstation and utilize a holographic design system, just like Tony Stark in Iron Man  😀
  5. Painkillers and/or cold packs
  6. Slow down and work smarter, not harder, by utilizing shortcuts and productivity tools built into the software
  7. Give the sore mouse arm a rest by switching to the other arm for all mousing

The solution that I chose was a combination of the last three options, to address the immediate symptoms and the root cause at the same time.  It turned out to be a very effective way for me to keep working while letting my sore wrist heal.  At first, I was worried that trying to mouse with my weak arm would cause a loss in productivity, but to my surprise it took only a few days to get up to a speed comparable to when I moused with my dominant arm.  Eventually, it felt so natural that I would spend months mousing with the weak arm and not even think to switch back until I caused another flare-up.  And, conveniently, the only change I needed to make to my computer was a very simple tweak in the mouse settings and, while not necessary, I preferred to always have my index finger do what is commonly referred to as “left click”.

So if I were to mouse with my left hand, that meant switching mouse settings so that the primary button was the Right button.  If changing from left to right hand, it would be the opposite.  To make the change, Start > type “mouse” > choose Mouse Settings

Setting primary mouse button in Windows 10

This switching-sides idea worked the best for me when using a mouse or trackball that was mostly symmetric.  Not so well for non-symmetric devices, as the ergonomics were backwards.

Now to the productivity tricks and shortcuts, such as the use of SOLIDWORKS hotkeys (keyboard shortcuts) and their defaults.  In SOLIDWORKS, there are also such wrist-savers as:

  • the Shortcut toolbar
  • the mate pop-up toolbar and Smart Mates when creating assemblies
  • auto-arrange dimensions to tidy up where the dimensions are placed in the drawing.  This is best used up until the final stages of the detailing process, and only at the very end do you want to do final touch-up, as auto-arrange will undo your touch-up.
  • the D key to exit from editing sketches, features, sheet format, etc, instead of mousing up to the corner
  • mouse gestures to launch commands, and the various updates since it was introduced
  • Collapse items in the design tree
  • learning to use the power of the Ctrl, Shift, and Alt keys
  • 3Dconnexion navigation device support, to let you fly through and around the model instead of having to use mouse wheel for all that panning and zooming!

In the event that I started feeling pain in the newly-trained arm by pushing my limits, I would simply switch back again and try not to go so fast, while ensuring that I was using these many productivity tricks.

Gotta say, I really would have loved to go with the Iron Man option instead, but such technology wasn’t fully available at the time…but seems we’re getting closer to it every day…

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John Lee, CSWE

John Lee is inherently lazy in that he prefers to work smarter - not harder. A CSWE with fifteen years of experience using SOLIDWORKS and a background in mechanical design, John has used SOLIDWORKS in various industries requiring design for injection molding, sheet metal, weldments and structural steel.