Have you adjusted your mouse sensitivity correctly? Learn how to avoid this simple mistake.

Most people make a simple mistake when they buy a new PC or Mac. They simply plug in the mouse (or if it’s wireless, just switch it on) and away they go. They don’t even think about their mouse sensitivity.

How To Adjust Mouse Sensitivity For Best Ergonomics

However the factory setup for a standard mouse is only for the “average user”. And since you’re unique (and you’re reading this blog 🙂 ), I suspect you’re anything but average!

There are lots of posts out there telling you how to change the mouse speed from a technical standpoint, but none of them tell you which is the best speed for you. This article will change that and show you how to adjust mouse sensitivity.

Why You Need To Adjust Mouse Sensitivity

We’re all aware of how to move and use a mouse, but we’re not all aware of the stress they can place on our bodies, particularly if we don’t adjust the mouse sensitivity.

Many people experience pain or discomfort from using a standard mouse and they tend to fall into 2 camps:

  1. Hand and wrist pain
  2. Shoulder and neck stiffness

In the worst cases, the pain and stiffness from one area can “link up” with the other, leading to your whole arm being affected. This may manifest as pins and needles, or strange aches and shooting pains.

So, how do you adjust the sensitivity of your mouse, in order to avoid these effects?

How To Change Mouse Sensitivity

For the best ergonomics, large movements are usually better than smaller ones. However, different kinds of mouse movement affect different parts of your body.

The large movements that take the mouse across the whole screen involve your shoulder, while small movements tend to affect your hands more.

You therefore need the right balance between these two movement types, so you can work to your strengths. Adjusting your mouse speed will enable you to do that.

Note that I am using the terms “mouse sensitivity” and “mouse speed” interchangeably. They are more or less the same thing.

With some mice, you may have the option for adjusting the DPI (Dots Per Inch) setting. However, since this setting is only available in a few cases and can be confusing, I will focus on the speed.

What you are aiming for

For best ergonomics, you need your mouse speed to be:

  • Fast enough to cover the screen
  • Slow enough that you’re not struggling to click on icons

Find Your Mouse Settings

First of all, you need to find your way to the mouse settings dialog.

Windows instructions

You may see slightly different menu options, depending on which version of Windows you are on.
For Windows 10, you need to get into the Power User Menu by right-clicking the Windows icon, then:

  1. Click Control Panel.
  2. Navigate to Hardware and Sound > Mouse.
  3. Select the Pointer Options tab.

If you’re still on Windows 7, then you can usually find Control Panel on the right hand side of the main Windows menu.

Whichever version you are on, the important thing is that you end up on the Pointer Options tab of the Mouse Properties dialog.

Mac instructions

On a Mac, navigate as follows:
System preferences > Mouse > Point and Click tab

How To Adjust Your Mouse Sensitivity (Speed)

Now to the important part.

The speed slider appears under Windows as “Select a pointer speed” in the Motion area of the dialog. On a Mac it is displayed at the bottom of the tab as “Tracking Speed”. It will appear as a slider like this:

Mouse Tracking Speed

If you’ve never adjusted your mouse sensitivity/speed before, you will probably see it right in the middle of the scale. In general, I would recommend you to set it on the faster side, although personal preference does come into play here.

To get a feel for the effect of mouse speed on your ergonomic experience and to hit your personal “sweet spot”, do the following:

1. Set your mouse to its slowest speed then try it out
Make a note of the current setting, in case you want to reset it at any point.
Then take the slider all the way down to the minimum and click Apply if on PC (you don’t need to click anything on Mac) Then test it out.

As you move the mouse around, you’ll find that you have to move it a long way in order to move the on-screen pointer any significant distance.

If you have a mouse mat (or a small desk), you may even find that you move the mouse so far, and then have to pick it up and move it to back to the beginning, in order to keep moving the mouse pointer!

While you do this, focus on how it feels for your body, specifically your hand/wrist and shoulder/neck areas.

As you may be able to tell, there is a lot more happening in your shoulder right now than in your hand.

2. Set mouse to fastest speed then try it again
Now go back into the speed setting and slide it all the way up to the max, then test your mouse again.

This time, you’ll find that the on-screen pointer moves a larger distance, for a relatively small movement of the mouse. You may even feel that the pointer is “jumping” or “flicking” around the screen.

As you move the mouse, again check how your body is feeling. Once more focusing on your hand and shoulder, you should feel that there is less movement in your shoulder.

3. Take it down a few notches until it feels comfortable moving across the whole screen
Take the speed down a little along the scale, but not too far. Two or three increments should do it.

Move the mouse around again, checking that you can still move the pointer comfortably to all areas of the screen.

4. Test out clicking a small icon
Now try clicking on a very small icon such as the close or minimise icon of a program window. Do this in several parts of the screen to get a proper feel for it.

Concentrate on your hand, wrist and fingers while you are clicking. Think about how easy it is to move the pointer to the correct spot and perform the click.

Are you gripping the mouse or tensing your muscles awkwardly, or too hard? If the answer is “yes”, then you need to drop the mouse speed a little further.

5. Keep lowering the speed and re-testing
Keep going back over 3 and 4 above, lowering the speed one more increment each time.

Do this until you can click on small icons with a relaxed grip, but are still able to cover the complete screen easily.

Tip: if you find you need different speeds for different tasks, then you can get a mouse with a speed setting button, so you can change it without having to go back into the mouse settings dialog every time. Here’s an example (this one’s sold as a gaming mouse, but should do the job with ease).

If You Already Have Pain

If you’ve already got pain or discomfort then you may have to adjust your mouse in a somewhat “biased” mode.

What I mean is, if your shoulder hurts when you move the mouse, then you may need to set it slightly faster than you would normally like.

This may put temporary strain on your fingers, but would give your shoulder a rest. Once your shoulder is feeling better, you can then re-adjust.

In the meantime, just make sure you take plenty of breaks.

And don’t forget the usual caveats: if you’re worried at any stage that things are not improving, or are getting worse, then go see your doctor.

Still Got Mouse Pain?

What if you’ve gone through the above steps and adjusted your mouse sensitivity, but it’s still “not quite right”?

On the one hand, it may take a couple of days or so to see the full benefits of a change in mouse sensitivity. However, if you’re anything like me (or many others in the Ergonomic Toolbox community), then it probably won’t be enough.

It may be time to invest in an ergonomic mouse.
But how do you know which ergonomic mouse will suit you?

You’ll be pleased to know I’ve created a guide to help with that.
Click here to find out more.

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