Is your Apple Magic Trackpad giving you RSI?

This isn’t a review as such, because I believe such things are so subjective and personal that it’d be meaningless for me to recommend it or otherwise.

However, when I received my shiny new iMac i7 (with monster spec) just before the end of last year, I had opted for both the magic mouse and the magic trackpad.  I really didn’t get on with the mouse but persisted with the trackpad (despite intermittent jumpiness in the mouse pointer when clicking – a story for another day) and in many ways really took to it.

A few months in (and having put up with that jumpiness – later folks ;-) ) I am starting to suffer from pain in my right hand which I am wondering might be due to the use of the Magic Trackpad.

I took some time to observe how I use the trackpad and noticed that I’m always forced to use it with fingers curled and using my second finger as the scrolling finger and index finger as the clicking finger.  Maybe that’s crazy but that’s how it’s ended up working for me.

Or not working: you see, whilst the thumb acts as a kind of ‘anchor’ for the hand, the remaining two fingers don’t do much, and I am wondering whether that might account for the increasing levels of discomfort I am finding.  To be fair, I don’t spend all day using the trackpad – much of the day is spent actually at the keys – which makes me wonder whether the use of a trackpad for day-in, day-out use is actually quite a bad idea.

You might be wondering what the point of this post is – well, really I’m looking to see if anyone else has suffered any such ailments as a result of using a stand-alone trackpad – maybe I’m an isolated case, but I do wonder whether it might be a more widespread problem.

If you’re a Magic Trackpad user, and you’ve suffered, do leave a comment – it would be interesting to see how widespread this actually is.

Meantime, I’m going back to my ergonomic Logitech mouse.  It might well use a wire and look a bit out-of-place next to the shrine of aluminium that is my Mac workplace, but it’s never let me down…

About John Clark

My name is John Clark and I previously ran a software house called Reynard Thomson, from which this blog originally grew. In the meantime, we launched a video-based user testing service (Kupima) which didn't really take off, and I have since moved into a new field specialising on software-based research & development consultancy. I'm active on LinkedIn, and would love to connect to anyone who has an interest in software prototyping or R&D: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jtclarkuk/
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

43 Responses to Is your Apple Magic Trackpad giving you RSI?

  1. Chris Thomper says:

    Try this terminal command to allow flipping the trackpad to a different angle at will:

    sudo defaults write com.apple.MultitouchSupport ForceAutoOrientation YES

    The orientation detection should become active after rebooting, reconnecting the trackpad, or changing other settings in the trackpad control panel. Just rest 5 fingers on the Magic Trackpad after turning it around and the cursor will thereafter move in the desired direction.

    http://hints.macworld.com/article.php?story=20101029060726179

    This is particularly helpful if you have a low desk, and may be combined with a wrist rest, tap click, and 3-finger drag!

  2. John Clark says:

    Thanks, Chris – I’m planning to settle on a combination of trackpad-and-mouse, with a bit of swapping in-between the two. Good tip though!

  3. l.m.orchard says:

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been having some thumb & wrist pain that seems linked to my Magic Trackpad. Kind of feels like a sprain, with aches and pains in a line down my thumb and into my wrist. Turning keys and door knobs like this has been not fun.

    Mainly, I think it’s from how I’m doing drag & drop: I press down with the side of my thumb in the corner to get the rubber foot button to click, then drag around with my index finger.

    I think the repeated lateral stresses are the problem – as opposed to the more normal stress of gripping or clicking with the pad of my thumb.

    I switched hands, and noticed my left hand starting to twinge too. So, now, I’m seeing how I do after turning on one-finger drag and drag lock. A little awkward, but it demands no real pressure on the pad and takes my thumb out of action altogether.

    Since I’ve stopped using my thumb to click, things have been getting steadily better.

    • Danni says:

      This is also what I have experienced from my use of the Magic Trackpad. I’ve switched to use the trackpad entirely, and I feel the strain from my left thumb and down to my wrist. I also use the left thumb to click and index finger to drag and move the mouse in general.

      I’m not sure that it won’t be able to work for me though. We’ve all used a mouse for several years, and I have steadily increased my time using the computer over my teenage years. So perhaps we’ve all “trained” or hands to withstand this usage. Now all of a sudden we change the pattern to use the thumb and index fingers much more and in a different way.

      I too have stopped clicking with my thumb, so hopefully that will releave some of the pain.. Hopefully.

      • Tammer Ibrahim says:

        Thanks for the tip! This description seems to match exactly what I’m experiencing. I’ll definitely try using one finger to drag, or three-finger tracking.

  4. l.m.orchard says:

    Oh, also, about jumpiness in the Magic Trackpad: Depending on what kind of wifi you’re using, I discovered mine would get really erratic when Time Machine kicked in. Bluetooth from the trackpad and the data over wifi would conflict. Until I get a better router, I switched to a wired ethernet connection at my desk, and the Trackpad has been smooth ever since.

  5. John Clark says:

    MMmmm…. never thought that it could be a conflict with wifi. My main machine (the i7 iMac) is on a wired connection but I have an N-based wifi in the office and my cellphone (HTC Desire) and a few other bits are generally receiving and transmitting. I wonder…

    Oh, and I never did really use my thumb to click. It generally doesn’t get used at all with the Trackpad – I use my index and middle fingers to operate it.

  6. Stuart Priest says:

    I have been using the magic pad for 6 weeks. For the first month I used it on and off, but the the last 2 weeks I have unplugged the mouse. I am now experiencing pains in my forearm that feel like I have sprained a muscle (I use my thumb to bottom left corner click). At weekends (when I am not using the pad) my arm starts to get better, so for now it is back to the mouse so that my arm can recover

    • John Clark says:

      That’s not good, Stuart. I’d recommend leaving the trackpad alone if it’s doing that to you. I’ve adjusted the way I use mine and whilst I’m still not totally sure that it’s better, at least I’m not suffering any pain.

      In my original post I said that I was planning to go back to a Logitech mouse but in actual fact I didn’t – I stuck with the Magic Trackpad, but I reckon I will eventually get around to swapping back to a nice ergonomic mouse of some description. I’ll certainly keep the Magic Trackpad, but might relegate it to the left hand side of the keyboard purely for gesture activities or easy scrolling.

      I’m curious to see what OSX Lion brings, as what I’ve read suggests that it will be more heavily gestural and that could be a bad thing for those of us who simply don’t get on with the Magic Trackpad or Magic Mouse (which I really didn’t take to). Hopefully Apple won’t enforce gestures on us; if they did I would be very concerned about accessibility for one thing, given that not everyone wants to, or indeed is able to, work with a gestural input device.

  7. Mat B says:

    Thought I would chime in – I don’t have the standalone trackpad, just the one built into my Macbook Pro – I used my MBP for most of this weekend, and started to notice that every click of the trackpad was causing discomfort. I continued on and this morning my hand is extremely sore accross my wrist. I think it’s the continuous clicking of my index finger on what’s actually a fairly firm button-press. I’ll be turning on tap-to-click.

  8. Andy Dodd says:

    I can report similiar symptoms to the ones above. The press-to-click action of the trackpad of my 13″ Macbook Pro is very firm and my natural behaviour is to use the side of my thumb to anchor the click and use my fingers to drag and manipulate objects. As a consequence, I’ve been getting pain in the side of my thumb and in my index and third finger because my usage of the Macbook Pro has increased dramatically in the last few months. I’m going to switch to the Magic Trackpad, which I perceive to have a softer clicking action and failing that, will revert back to a traditional mouse (I just don’t get on with the tap to click settings). I don’t particularly need or rate the gestural interface – for what I use my laptop for, a conventional mouse-oriented setup is fine – so I hope Apple continues to support both types of input in the future. Having used the Trackpad in the older Powerbooks, I think part of the issue is the degree of force needed to depress the click action in the more recent machines. Certainly, there is a massive difference between my 2004 12″ Powerbook and my 2009 13″ Macbook Pro. If they could revert back to a softer, more responsive pad then I think a lot of the problems might go away. Certainly, I’ve never had any kind of RSI during nearly 20 years of computer usage so it’s a bit worrying that problems should arise so quickly when I begin using the Macbook day in, day out.

  9. Bridgette says:

    I have been noticing the same thing. I was just looking online to find out if anyone else was having the same problem.

  10. Steve Thompson says:

    I have a similar problem when I use my MBP trackpad. While my index and middle fingers do all the swiping and tapping, my ring finger and little finger curl passively underneath, not doing anything. After a little while they kind of go numb. I like the trackpad in general, but I think I may switch back to a trackball.

    It’s always something with these magical machines.

  11. Ian M says:

    I’m late to this thread, but it popped up after I searched for “pain” and “magic trackpad.” I use a MBP extensively at home, and–unlike Andy Dodd, above–have never had an issue with using the trackpad or pain associated with it. In fact, it was my pleasure using the MBP trackpad that inspired me to give the Magic Trackpad a try, thinking, “Why wouldn’t I want the superior pointer control and multitouch ability that a trackpad offers?” Well, two months in and I think I’m beginning to realize the answer to that question.

    I think part of the issue here may be that one’s arm is rotated even further off the natural vertical “handshake” orientation (the orientation we see on special ergonomic mice) and thus places additional strain on the arm. The pain I’m experiencing is present in my wrist, on its top, and also extends up through my thumb on the bottom, and extends down to my elbow, crossing over from my thumb to the outside of the elbow. I also switched to using the new Apple bluetooth keyboard at the same time, but my left hand and arm feels fine, so I think it’s related to the trackpad.

    This is a disappointment, since for so many years now I’ve been accustomed to using Apple laptops with their trackpads, and now, by comparison, using a mouse feels clumsy and wasteful, in terms of economy of motion and in terms of natural inclination: the two-finger scroll gesture make scrolling with a scroll wheel feel barbaric by comparison. I imagine I’ll keep using the Magic Trackpad, but complementing it with a mouse, and attempting to alter my technique to avoid this discouraging and worrisome pain.

  12. shane shaw says:

    I am a recent user of and Imac and track pad. i have managed to not use a mouse now with all my work and the only thing i find to difficult is when i play chess online it is easier to use my PC and use the mouse.

    My problem is when I am using the track pad i use my index finger mainly to press all the time and it has become very sore from constant pressing. Is there some way you can make a track pad more sensitive and not have to press so hard.

  13. Musstanser says:

    I think you are absolutely spot on – I have been using mac book pro built in touch pad for about two years now. I stopped using the mouse and now I often feel pain in finger joints – Mouse is better if used correctly.

  14. Simon Block says:

    I bought the trackpad a week and a half ago. I work all day on a computer, writing, and thought the trackpad would be an easier tool than having my hand clamped to a mouse. Yesterday afternoon I felt my trackpad hand starting to hurt, like a sprain – rooted in the middle three fingers. By evening it was much worse, and I realised that it was because I pointed and clicked with my index finger, but had to keep the next finger elevated, off the track pad so it didn’t cause any interference with my tracking index finger. This stretched the tendons on both fingers. In addition, upon examination, I noticed that because the trackpad is built to sit on the desk at an angle it effectively forces your hand to sit at an angle to your wrist all day. This exacerbates the tendon-stretch of the fingers. By the time I went to bed the pain was intense enough to take some painkillers. Of course….this may all be due to the fact that the anatomy of my hand is not used to the trackpad after decades with a mouse, but I have gone back to a mouse and it feels more comfortable – no pain. Partly this must be because all three middle fingers are effectively in a state of rest on the mouse, curled around it – no elevation off it, no tendon stretch. And when I click with a mouse I’m not having to lift my index finger up and drop it down onto the trackpad – I simply exert a little more pressure on the mouse as the index finger rests on it. By the way, I’m not using a magic mouse but the previous mini-rollerball version. But main note: all fingers permanently resting on the mouse, while all fingers mostly in a state of elevation on the trackpad. I don’t think you’d get the same issue with the trackpad of a Macbook pro because it’s completely flat. The Magic trackpad has to be angled off the desk to accomodate the 2 AA batteries – and I think that’s where the source of the RSI really lies, as it forces your hand into a stretched, angled position for long periods, putting much more strain on the tendons connecting the fingers to the phalanges. Hope this helps.

  15. Kristina says:

    I know this is an older post, and I hope you have found some relief. I came upon your blog post as I was searching for answers to the pain I am having in my right wrist and swelling in the back of my right hand. I have suspected the cause is my trackpad as well. The pain and swelling worsen after I have been using my Mac a lot. When I went on vacation for two weeks in the fall, I left my Mac at home and the symptoms eased, only to return upon coming back home to work.

    Since writing this, have your symptoms gotten better, or gone away? Did you stop using the trackpad and start using a mouse? I am thinking I will need to do just that.

  16. Elena says:

    I’ve found this page while searching for: “physical problems due to heavy use of the mac trackpad”.
    Since I switched to a powerbook that mounts the new trackpad in the middle, I’m having serious pain never experienced before. And this is happening to the left hand too… :(
    All the normal torsion and extension movements in life are now accompanied with pain in forearms, wrists and elbows (inner and outer), it looks like I’m having both tennis and golf elbows (called epicondylitis and similar).
    I ensure you that I’m not making any other strange moviments or efforts then all those you can possibly perform with the new trackpad and I usually make a strong computer use all day long, writing a lot too.
    The trackpad in the middle of the powerbook forced you to elevate the wrist while working ad I really don’t know how to solve the problem, I thought to buy the separated trackpad you all are talking about, but my doubts are that is it itself that needs a lot more effort than a normal ergonomic mouse and is causing all the problems we are experiencing.

  17. Sara says:

    I have experienced pain in my right ring finger of all things. I think it’s because of the tension of keeping it lifted off the trackpad. The primary culprit is a jigsaw puzzle app that I play with on my laptop. It actually helps me focus, but moving the pieces around strains my hand. I think playing games on my iPhone exacerbates the problem too.

  18. Michael says:

    I use a Macbook Pro and I’ve noticed a persistent RSI inflamation in my right elbow that I have traced to the constant tapping of my right index finger on the trackpad. Too much of anything is not good and I think I’ll go back to a Magic mouse that I can use with either hand. Repetitive clicking is what gets you. The IBM eraser ball was probably better than all this gesture stuff. Hopefully soon we’ll just have screens we can touch like an iPad.

  19. Rob says:

    On a similar note, I’ve been using a magic mouse for a few months now, I’ve started to notice pain on and off in my little finger, I think it’s probably because I tend to hold the mouse either side with my thumb and little finger to move it and lift it, my little finger tends to be straight and tensed as I use the mouse. The mouse has a fair bit of weight to it aswell because of the batteries.

  20. Steve Labo says:

    I was excited to get a trackpad three weeks ago when I decided to operate my MBP in clamshell mode with a large monitor. I’m not on the computer all day but enough that I have experienced a repetitive arm injury which I have never had with a mouse or notebook trackpad since I first started using computers in 1987. And this in just three weeks of using the Magic Trackpad. The pain is located two finger widths distal to the elbow crease – maybe in the Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus or Brachioradialis muscles or perhaps deeper inside the arm.

    I’m heading to the store to get a mouse tomorrow – probably a Magic Mouse and I’ll keep the trackpad on the left side of the keyboard. Its unfortunate because I really love the trackpad. I think the problem is using two fingers constantly with the other fingers curled. I also think its because of the relatively steep incline of the track pad Vs the horizontal orientation on the MBP. I elevated the low edge to make the pad level, but then the click function does not work. I would hope Apple makes a lower profile trackpad in future versions. This would require a lesser wrist bend and hopefully alleviate the problem.

    I think the ergonomics of this first trackpad version was not thought out with deeper anatomic analysis. Techies are not into anatomy I think….

  21. cypa says:

    So I have had my mac for a little over a month and have used it very little but the trackpad has done some serious damage to my wrist and arm I just figured it out today. It is worrisome since I have used it very little compared to my usual computer use. My wrist started hurting like a sprain then it moved up to my arm event my elbow. It hurts to do basic things like you all stated turning door nobs or even picking up a plate.

    I called the mac store and they said though it is past the 14 days they will exchange it for a magic mouse however I was just reading up on magic mouse and they seem to be just as bad. The magic track pad is so sexy and really cool in its functions and easy to learn however it scares me having this pain from so little use. I have used a computer for over 20 years and it is not until now that I have this pain I hope apple addresses this issue. If they made an ergonomic magic track pad I would jump on it.

  22. Lloyd G Francis says:

    My wrist, and elbows are in constant pain. I kind of ignored it and addressed everything except the track pad. Now I wish I had never gotten it.

  23. Pingback: Function over form: Why Microsoft peripherals still trump Apple’s | Digital Trends

  24. Shannon says:

    I use only 2 trackpads (one for each hand) and trained myself to use both to alleviate pain I was having in my arm from elbow to wrist, but now after about 6+ months of doing this, I have pain in my first two fingers of both hands. Those are the only 2 fingers I use for the trackpad, so I’ve linked the problem directly to the trackpads. I teach online classes for a living, so I’m trying to figure out how to work pain-free. What’s a girl to do?

  25. I just happened to find this site, wondering if there had been any reports of pain using the track pad. I’ve getting this unusual pain in my middle finger, a tingling on the surface and pain especially on the joints. I have decided to use a mouse. Common sense tells me that over use of any device connected to electrical frequencies cannot be good for you especially by ‘touch’ our most concentrated vehicle for transfer and conduction of energy.

  26. matt c says:

    i’ve been using a trackpad for about 3 months now and i’ve noticed pain in my right shoulder. wrist and hand are ok but the volume of typing and gestures on the TP have caused soreness. i’m certain its from TP use and probably a less than perfect keyboard angle set up. i’m going to get a more ergonomically correct chair and revert to a magic mouse.

  27. I feel your shame. I never had any luck whatsoever with this kind of stuff, either.

    So relieved to know I am not alone!

  28. ben says:

    Hi Guys

    this is an old thread but thought i’d throw my $0.02 in case someone, such as i have, comes across it.

    i experienced similar problems when first using my magic pad – it seemed to be a combo of a bit of ‘tennis elbow’ which was then exacerbated by the motion of using the pad. then i got a wrist rest, which is a soft rubbery pillow that i rest my wrist on in front of the pad. mine is an old one i had in my draw from “fellowes” but i’m sure you could experiment with different ones that feel right for you. In the end it’s a ~$10 solution which has provided me absolute pain free use – and now i love the pad, won’t go back to a mouse!

  29. Ismail says:

    Hey,

    I’ve been suffering pretty much identifical symptoms to you. Really annoying (in my right thumb, and I use the mouse exactly like you described).

    Has the pain in your thumb subsided since you switched back?

  30. Ann-Marie Sebastian says:

    Hi, I searched this issue on google because I am having the same issue with my pointing finger and middle finger in my right hand due to consistent scrolling on the mac trackpad. I am looking to purchase a mouse this week so my whole hand can do the scrolling instead of the two fingers.

  31. michael b says:

    I thought I was the only one suffering from this. I suspect my mbp is causing my wrist problems. I’ve been using a keyboard and mouse on a PC since I was 15. I’m 38 now and this is the first time I’ve ever suffered from wrist pain. And its on both wrists. I’ve only had my mbp for a year.

  32. leona says:

    i have beein using my macbook pro for 2 years already.
    but lately i have been constantly using it and felt that it was causing a very pain strain onto my wrist, i also do the thumb anchor thing and use the rest of my fingers on the trackpad to scroll. last few weeks, my wrist become really painful like a nerve pulling. i was so afraid it would the the carpal tunnel syndrome. i decided to get some titanium tape to tape my hand , the tape they use for badminton players.. it reduces the pain on my hand but if i’m not wearing the tape. the pain will come back.
    i thnk it’s time i TOTALLY avoid the trackpad. because i switch to my left hand after my right hand was hurt. and guess what. my left hand not hurts too. so i just google searched and stumbled on your page.

  33. city girl says:

    I searched this issue because I have finally had enough. Finding this post has made me think.. I really don’t like how the trackpad has you using your two fingers for most of the use. I’ve been mouse-less since 2008 and relying on my macbook pro for school, work, ect… and i’m finally reaching the point where I have to take breaks. At 23, this pain isn’t something I should have to encounter considering my career is based off of computer and web based resources. I’m over using my computer for photoshop and even browsing while my wrist is pressing against the metal lip of my macbook, my fingers and hand is 1/2 bent as I try to drag and drop. Really Apple?

    I MISS MY MOUSE!

    Lately, I have this urge to buy a mouse. I miss moving the mouse with my wrist and not my two fingers. I also need a tool that I can lightly tap which for me, the tap on the trackpad did not seem functional. Should I give it another try or go straight for the magic mouse?

  34. Sorry to comment on such an old post, but I notice a lot of the comments are about problems due to clicking with the thumb to drag. If this is causing you a problem, you should change your trackpad preferences to enable ‘three finger drag’ (in the first tab, Point & Click). By default, the three finger swiping gesture is assigned to ‘Swipe between full screen apps’, in ‘More Gestures’, so you need to either disable that or change the gesture (e.g., to four fingers) before Three finger drag will work.

    Once you’ve enable three finger drag, you can move windows, icons and select text by dragging with three fingers.

    Three finger drag is a really excellent feature in its own right (it’s a shame it isn’t on by default), but it also saves you that awkward click and hold with your thumb which looks like it might be causing some people some problems.

  35. chris says:

    Sorry to comment on an old post but I also stopped using the track pad for the same reason. Now after about 2 months on not using it the pain is gone. However the pain got to the point that I could not move my wrist or arm without intense pain.

  36. Stuart says:

    I’ve got a retina 2012 MBP, and I’m starting to get weird twitching RSI at the top of my arm just where the muscle ends and the elbow bone starts. I believe it’s a combination of trackpad dragging and keyboard use. I also think constant use of arm muscles with hand rotated horizontally is aggravating the muscle. I’m considering getting a magic pad and using it vertical as I love the trackpad speed so much. No sure how but it I’m thinking a combination of suckers, glue and some L shaped bracket, dam it sounds hideous just typing it but I’m desperate. I want to keep my right hand vertical in its natural posture but not have to use one of those ergo mice. I may report back.

  37. Melanie says:

    Just following up on the comment I left a couple of minutes ago. Great news. The Apple Store will return my Magic Trackpad, since I’ve purchased it within the past 14 days.

  38. Jill Craddock says:

    I have extreme right hand pain in the wrist and thumb and can no longer use the track pad or iPhone for more than a couple minutes at a time without switching to my left hand. Occupational therapy has helped some, but I never worked on the computer more than the average person. It is definitely from the Mac, but I can’t find a cure… very frustrating. I’ll check back to see if anyone knows a way to cure. It is like little shocks to the wrist, thumb, and first two fingers.

  39. Thanks Adrian! That was exactly my problem. Ohh, my poor thumb! But so happy to have found a solution! Thanks a ton!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>