Home Diseases Mouse arm: definition, symptoms, therapy

Mouse arm: definition, symptoms, therapy

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 230 views
Mouse arm or RSI syndrome

Mouse arm or Repetitive strain injury(RSI) syndrome describes various symptoms in the hand, arm, shoulder, and neck region. Overuse syndrome symptoms include abnormal sensations, tingling, numbness, or pain. Treatment includes changing working conditions, cooling, pain killers, and physical therapy. Read everything you need to know about the mouse arm here.

ICD codes for this disease: M77

ICD codes are internationally valid codes for medical diagnoses. They can be found, for example, in doctor’s letters or on certificates of incapacity for work.

quick overview

  • Symptoms: Tingling and discomfort, muscle cramps, tendinitis, etc., especially in the neck, shoulders, arms, and hands
  • Treatment: change of working conditions, cooling if necessary, pain therapy, and physiotherapy
  • Causes and risk factors: Chronic overuse and incorrect use of the arm muscles
  • Diagnostics: Based primarily on medical history, followed by a physical examination
  • Disease course and prognosis: With early treatment, the prognosis is usually good; chronic conditions make treatment and recovery more difficult
  • Prevention: set up the workplace ergonomically, practice new movement patterns and carry out exercises regularly

What is a Repetitive strain injury or mouse arm?

The hand and arm are primarily affected by a mouse arm and the shoulder and neck. In the English-speaking world, the mouse arm or the mouse hand is referred to as “Repetitive strain injury syndrome or overuse syndrome.” It is recognized as an occupational disease in the USA, for example.

RSI stands for Repetitive Strain Injury. The cause of the syndrome is chronic overuse and incorrect strain.

The term “syndrome” already indicates that several symptoms can co-occur in a mouse hand. Typical of an overuse syndrome are discomfort, muscle weakness, and pain.

Mouse arm affects people of all ages. About 60 percent of people who sit at the computer for more than three hours daily complain about complaints.

The RSI syndrome is therefore also referred to as “secretaries’ disease.” People with other problems, such as metabolic disorders, are often affected earlier and after less stress than otherwise healthy people.

Technological developments such as computers, mobile phones, and other small electronic devices (Playstation, Gameboy, et cetera) have dramatically increased the monotonous strain on arms and hands in large parts of the population.

How does an overuse syndrome or mouse arm manifest itself?

An overuse syndrome (RSI) manifests itself through several complaints in the area of ​​​​the upper half of the body. The neck, shoulders, arms, and hands are particularly affected. Contrary to the name, a mouse arm does not only appear in the arm area.

In the early stages of the disease, those affected notice symptoms such as tingling and abnormal sensations in the affected part of the body. In addition, there may be a loss of strength in the affected muscle groups.

At an early stage, a mouse arm only shows symptoms with prolonged exertion. In addition, the signs in this stage of the disease usually subside quickly as soon as the person concerned takes it easy.

If the causal strain persists, coordination difficulties in the arms, hands, and fingers will arise. The joints of the hand, elbow, shoulder, and neck may become stiff due to the mouse arm.

At a later stage, pain occurs again and again in the affected part of the body. Minor stress is then often enough to trigger the symptoms. In the later stages, the symptoms may even persist despite physical rest.

Other possible symptoms are:

  • Limited mobility
  • feeling of tension
  • numbness
  • The sensation of swollen fingers and hands
  • muscle cramps
  • Tendon and tendon sheath inflammation
  • Disorders of the tendon insertion (tennis elbow)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

What to do with an overuse syndrome or mouse arm?

Different treatment methods can be considered when treating the overuse syndrome depending on the severity and duration of the pain. The most important therapy for mouse arms is a change in working conditions. Doctors speak of exposure prophylaxis.

The focus of the treatment of mouse arm complaints is, among other things, sick leave to relieve the strain, cooling the affected area if necessary, painkillers, and movement therapy. People with chronic mouse arms, in particular, also benefit from psychotherapeutic treatment.

Applying a bandage or taping may also help those affected against the overuse syndrome complaints.

What are the causes of mouse arms?

The RSI syndrome occurs mainly in people who work a lot with their hands.

Technical progress has led to a particular increase in RSI syndrome cases, as more and more people work many hours a day with the computer.

Text processors and graphic designers, in particular, are often affected by a mouse arm. Constantly repetitive movements such as typing or mouse clicks contribute to RSI syndrome.

Individual risk factors

Certain individual factors significantly influence the development of the mouse arms: These include primarily chronic stress and a high workload. An unhealthy posture (bent back, tense neck area, static holding work) also promotes the development of the RSI syndrome.

A workplace not set up according to ergonomic aspects is the leading cause of poor posture for many people and thus of the mouse arm.

Doctors also assume that the development of a mouse arm is increased by a reduced perception of one’s body signals. If pain is deliberately hidden or the perception of pain is unconsciously suppressed, this leads to more significant stress on the arms. Since the body’s natural protection against excessive stress is lost, chronic irritation develops more quickly.

Changes in the brain’s perpetual pain

The chronic physical strain and complex processing mechanisms in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) contribute to a mouse arm. First, chronic exposure irritates muscles, ligaments, and surrounding tissue.

This chronic pain stimulus changes pain perception in the spinal cord, where the signals are processed. Even if the stress causing the pain no longer exists, the person may still feel the pain.

Another effect may also play a role: scientists believe that those affected subconsciously associate the constant repetition of certain movements with specific stimuli such as clicking a mouse or looking at the screen.

Suppose movement and stimulus have been associated with pain often enough. In that case, a pain signal will be reported in the brain every time, even if the person concerned has not overstrained muscles, ligaments, and joints through the movement.

How is an overuse syndrome diagnosed?

If you regularly suffer from pain or discomfort in your arms, your family doctor or orthopedist is the right person to talk to. If necessary, it makes sense to consult a doctor who has already dealt with the topic, for example, by writing publications on it.

In a mouse arm, the diagnosis is mainly based on medical history (anamnesis). The anamnesis interview is, therefore, significant. Tell the doctor about any changes you have noticed. It is vital to report when and at what intensity the pain occurs. The doctor then asks various questions such as:

  • Where, when, and how often do the symptoms occur?
  • How long have the complaints existed?
  • What is your job, and how many hours do you work on average per day?
  • Do you have similar discomfort in other parts of the body?

After the anamnesis, a physical examination takes place. The doctor feels the painful region and checks whether the pain can be triggered or increased by pressure. He also tests the adjacent joints’ mobility and the muscles’ strength.

Various functional tests provide additional information about the type of disease: nerve conduction velocity (NLG) is often measured, particularly in an advanced stage. The doctor thus distinguishes RSI syndrome from carpal tunnel syndrome, in which a reduced nerve conduction speed of a specific nerve in the forearm and hand is typically noticeable.

Imaging methods do not indicate a mouse arm since no anatomical changes can be detected in a mouse arm. The doctor makes such recordings, for example, if the affected person has had other injuries in the same region of the body in the past.

Then there is the possibility that this injury’s healing has not occurred entirely or correctly, and the current symptoms can be traced back to a previous injury.

Physical therapy measures

In addition to exposure prophylaxis, physical therapies are used to treat mouse arms. These include heat and cold treatments with compresses and gymnastics and massages.

In many cases, exercise baths are also sound. You move the affected joints in warm water with certain medicinal additives. These help the muscles to relax and reduce pain. Regular use of heat lamps (infrared lamps) has a similar effect.

Medicinal measures

If the pain severely affects those affected, a mouse arm treatment with medication is carried out. Painkillers (analgesics) work against the pain. The anti-inflammatory cortisone is also occasionally used.

Experts advise not to consider drug-based pain therapy as a permanent solution for mouse arms, as this is a purely symptomatic treatment that does not address the underlying causes.


Psychotherapy is also recommended, especially in the case of chronic RSI syndrome. In this, the psychotherapist explains to the affected pain patient, for example, the connection between the triggering factors, the processes in the brain, and the pain that occurs.

In the individual therapy sessions, he then shows ways of dealing with the pain and practices changed behavior with the patient. This includes, for example, unique relaxation methods and learning new thinking strategies.

What is the prognosis for the mouse arm?

The prognosis for a mouse arm depends primarily on the person affected. In principle, the mouse arm is a preventable clinical picture that can be positively influenced by correct behavior.

If those affected take the symptoms seriously at an early stage of the disease, for example, by trying to eliminate the responsible causes at work and taking care of the affected part of the body, the prognosis is usually good.

In many cases, however, those affected only seek medical advice when the condition is chronic. At this point, treatment is more complex, and the chances of recovery are significantly worse. A mouse arm may affect the affected person so much that it is no longer possible to carry out the learned profession.

How do you prevent mouse arms?

It is essential for predominantly sedentary activities that you sit straight and comfortably. Ensure your neck, shoulders, and arms are as relaxed as possible. Also, avoid drafts and cold hands when working on the computer for a long time.

Practice new movement patterns at work and stick to them in the future to avoid relapse. It also makes sense to set up the workplace according to ergonomic principles. In an office workplace, it is essential to have an ergonomically optimized seat and an ergonomically shaped keyboard and mouse.

Perform muscle and joint relaxation exercises on a mouse arm during regular breaks in work. For example, a simple exercise is to clench a fist and slowly open it again with your fingers bent and straightened at the very end.

Exercises in which you press your hands against each other or the wall and bend your wrists are just as practical. It is also important to regularly stretch the head and neck area to relieve tension. To do this, tilt your head in different directions and hold each position for a few seconds.

Shaking out your arms and regularly twisting and stretching your upper body also help with a mouse arm. Exercises like these can be flexibly integrated into your everyday work. There is no set order. You can repeat each activity as often as you like.

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