Executive Edge: It's All in the Wrist-Or Is It?

Oct 01, 2002

Proper form and technique are important in sports because they allow players to get the maximum output from their muscles as they control their racquets, bats, balls, and other sporting equipment. Form, technique, and relaxed but purposeful muscle movements are also important in working with computers, but most executives use those business tools without giving it much thought.

That's unfortunate, because a few simple steps can make the use of computers faster, more comfortable, and-at the end of the day-less stressful on the hands and wrists.

A firm but pliable support is needed while using a computer mouse or trackball. And most executives' office chairs should have adjustments for supporting their forearms while keyboarding. But the real challenge is to avoid bending and twisting the wrist at an awkward angle-the kind of unnatural movement that can bring on carpal tunnel syndrome.

The search to avoid "computer users disease" took me to the recent MacWorld show in New York, where I found a very useful and inexpensive new tool. I've been using it for the past two months, and the difference in the way my wrist feels is incredible. As PE's "resident geek," I've tested a bunch of foam rubber wrist rests, bean bag cushions, and combination mouse pad/wrist supports, and I'm convinced that the Comfort Point will improve the efficiency and comfort of anyone who uses a mouse or trackball.

More like a small, smoothly articulated orthopedic appliance than a cushion, the Comfort Point is molded of firm, padded plastic that perfectly fits the contours of the wrist, palm, and base of the thumb. It's like a negative impression of the anatomy, so there is none of the "push back" pressure that comes with rubber or gel pads. The secret may be in how the device holds all the bones of the hand and wrist in balance, so no single spot bears the arm's weight or senses mouse movements.

With a quick twist, the base adjusts to the individual height of the user's hand on the mouse, then attaches to the mouse with a short Velcro tab so that the two units move together as one. From that point on, any swivel or sliding motion is done with a sense that the mouse was "custom molded" for personal use. The device is available for $20 from Comfort Labs at www.comfortlab.com

My personal recommendation is that executives ditch their old-style mouses altogether and use the Comfort Point with Kensington's new Turbo Mouse trackball. Once you get used to sliding your fingers across the ball to move across an entire page on the computer screen, you'll never go back to moving your whole forearm, elbow, wrist, and hand to do the same thing. The device has an oddly shaped slope with a "billiard ball" mounted in the center. But its beauty is in how it remains stationary and allows short finger movements to shift the mouse pointer anywhere on the screen.

The Kensington machines come with special software that users can program so the mouse cursor accelerates as it sweeps across the page, then slows down as it zeros-in on the point-and-click spot. The Turbo mouse retails for about $80 at computer and office supply stores or through www.kensington.com. It comes with a decent wrist rest, but combined with the Comfort Point, it is mouse nirvana.