Mouse Arm: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

The colloquial term “mouse arm” describes the unspecific clinical picture of the RSI syndrome (Repetitive Strain Injury). Behind the term “mouse arm” are various clinical pictures, such as pain or inflammation in nerves, tendons, and muscles. Due to the mouse arm, the movements in the arm and hands are very painful and only possible to a limited extent due to overloading.

Symptoms of mouse arm

The symptoms associated with a mouse arm can be versatile and non-specific. Initially, complaints such as loss of strength, numbness, and sensations of discomfort (e.g., tingling) occur. In the course of the disease, pain also occurs during movement and at rest. These symptoms are not limited to the fingers and elbows but spread over the entire region of the body, i.e., to the shoulder/neck area. Furthermore, complaints such as incorrect movements or muscle cramps can occur.

Only in a few cases is a medical term assigned to the complaints. The following designations can refer to a mouse arm:

  • Bursitis on the elbow
  • Muscle pain (myalgia)
  • Tennis elbow
  • Golfer’s elbow (Epicondylitis lateralis or ulnaris)
  • Upper leg (ganglion cyst)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome, which constricts a nerve
  • Hand-arm vibration 
  • Inflammation of the stylus process
  • Various tendon diseases and inflammations.

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Causes of mouse arm

The mouse arm is a young clinical picture in which the causes and developmental processes have not yet been clarified in detail. However, it is known that the mouse arm is caused by overloading. Overloading is caused by the same, constantly repeated movements and sequences of movements that damage the stressed structures.

The term “mouse arm” is misleading, because one might think that the versatile clinical picture is only caused by the use of the computer mouse. All kinds of monotonous movements, i.e., not only clicking with the mouse, are responsible for the development of the mouse arm. In many professions, monotonous movements are performed daily. For example, office workers, programmers, and PC/video players who type and click their fingers every day are affected. But also, assembly line workers, cashiers, or sign language interpreters put a lot of strain on their hand and arm muscles every day.

However, not everyone is equally at risk but differ in their physiological and psychological characteristics in the probability of suffering from a mouse arm. These strains initially cause small injuries (micro-trauma), which cannot heal sufficiently if the breaks between the strain are not long enough. This results in greater damage over long periods, which can manifest itself in various forms (see symptoms).

Besides the physio-mechanical causes, psychological factors are also involved in the development of a mouse arm. Those affected link the pain with the associated movements (pain memory). This explains why patients are initially free of symptoms after a long recovery break, such as a holiday, but suffer from the spectrum of symptoms after only a few hours.

From this, it can be deduced that the cause spectrum of the mouse arm is divided into different phases: First of all, the number of micro-injuries due to acute overload increases. Furthermore, if the breaks are too short, the number of non-repaired tissue increases, and a motor-programmed pain sensation, the pain memory, develops.

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Diagnosis of mouse arm

The diagnosis of a mouse arm is difficult because most of the affected persons do not show a uniform picture of symptoms. Besides, imaging procedures such as X-rays, CT, or MRI do not reveal any signs of disease, injuries, or changes. Therefore, there is not yet a uniform diagnosis for the mouse arm according to the ICD key, which systematizes the diagnoses.

The diagnostic measures in the case of suspected mouse arm are thus limited to the patient’s complaints and symptoms and recognizable signs of disease. Important for the diagnosis of a mouse arm is information about the profession and the movements associated with it. The following factors are important: total length of employment in years, as well as the daily duration of activity, movement cycles, break design, abnormalities in posture and movement, the arrangement of work equipment, and the psychological component (e.g., stress factors). If these data match the organic findings, the mouse arm can be diagnosed in the acute and chronic form.

Therapy

The therapy of the mouse arm aims to create a long-term pain-free relationship and to lead the patient back to the old performance level. In principle, it is not advisable to immobilize the affected body parts completely, but a break from the stereotypical movement can help the diseased compartments to recover. This purpose is served by bandages that are available for various parts of the body (wrist, elbows, etc.). Relief through pain and anti-inflammatory drugs or surgical measures usually only lasts for a short time and is therefore only beneficial for acute conditions. It is, therefore, important to change the movements that lead to the complaints to provide lasting therapy for the mouse arm and prevent it from becoming chronic.

The further therapy of the mouse arm initially includes the working environment. There, changes can be achieved by improving the ergonomic design of the workplace and by more alternative movements that break the usual patterns. There are also special computer keyboards or mice that make movements more comfortable and ergonomic. The sitting position and correct positioning of the monitor also play a decisive role, as do the posture angles of the hand and forearms. Dynamic sitting additionally relieves the strained musculature. Ergonomic office chairs or gymnastic balls are suitable for this. Regular breaks with stretching exercises during work should loosen the muscles and provide relief as a support for physiotherapy.

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Exercises

But the mouse arm should also be treated outside the workplace. Physiotherapeutic exercises help here and are, on the one hand, movement exercises that erase the old, painful movement patterns and are intended to help learn new movement patterns and, on the other hand, heat and cold treatments. The heat serves to relax the muscles and alleviate the pain. Also, the temperature-dependent stimuli stimulate the nerves.

Furthermore, touch and stretching exercises, as well as general gymnastics, are suitable for the therapy of the mouse arm. There are numerous simple exercises, through which anyone can easily relax the muscles. A simple example is the fist: after you have spread your fingers very far apart, you clench your skin into a fist. Then you loosen the hand again and start again. A massage ball, for the hand, offers additional possibilities to train the muscles. Furthermore, the treatment also includes the use of functional tapes (Kinesio tapes). The Kinesio – tape is intended to increase the blood circulation of the affected muscles, which results in a relaxation of the muscles.

In addition to the conventional medical therapy options, naturopathy with acupuncture also offers a possibility for additional therapy of the mouse arm.

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Prophylaxis

The most important thing is to take regular breaks from movement and to do stretching exercises for the stressed joints during this time. Furthermore, the danger of a mouse arm can be easily reduced by holding the mouse loosely in your hand, reducing the “click speed,” switching between mouse and keyboard, and trying to find a balance to the stressful activity in your free time.

Forecast

The prognosis for a mouse arm depends mainly on the patient himself. The right behavior can prevent the development of a mouse arm. The earlier the symptoms are perceived, the better the prognosis, since the damage is even smaller, and the pain memory has not been activated. With minor changes at the workplace, it is easy to prevent the mouse arm itself, or if the mouse arm is already in place, a deterioration. If the affected person visits the doctor too late, the treatment is more difficult, and the prognosis worse.

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