How to Best Use a Trackball Mouse

Get the hang of this ergonomic tool

A trackball mouse may be a better option if you struggle with traditional mice due to carpal tunnel or another reason. Here's how to get used to one of these unique devices, and why you should consider making the switch.

A trackball mouse with a tablet and keyboard
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Why Use a Trackball Mouse?

The computer mouse and its laptop equivalent, the trackpad, are suitable for many tasks. However, these devices can cause serious problems, especially if you have inflammation or a repetitive stress injury.

Moving a mouse requires engaging an entire set of muscles, from your shoulder down to the small muscles of your hand. If you have an injury or inflammation anywhere along the arm or have a limited range of motion, you may know how much this can hurt.

Familiarize yourself with the signs of nerve pain or damage, even if you use a standard mouse. The signs include tingling, numbness, burning or shooting pains, and fatigue or weakness.

The trackball is a free-floating ball resting on rollers that spin in any direction. As you use it, the mouse pointer moves in the direction of the spin. Trackball mice don't require as much movement from as many parts of your body. Depending on the design, you can manipulate it with a finger, letting your hand rest on the device and using other fingers to click buttons and turn wheels. It's also handy when you have limited space because you don't drag the mouse across a surface. Also, you can use a trackball on the go more easily.

Other designs, where the ball sits at the center, let you use your wrist or the palm of your hand to spin instead of your fingers. These designs have the added advantage of being suited for either hand. It's more physically comfortable but takes some getting used to.

How Best to Use a Trackball

The standard mouse is fairly simple to comprehend. The pointer represents the mouse. You move the mouse around, and the pointer follows the mouse.

The trackball is different. It's as if the pointer is just above the ball. As you roll the ball, it moves the pointer on top of it. Trackballs also have a different sense of momentum. A standard mouse only moves when you give it a nudge. You can spin a trackball like a marble. The pointer moves as fast as your hand, and it can be a bit disconcerting at first. The following steps will help:

  1. Try trackballs in different styles and ball positions at the store. Smaller balls that rest under one finger are best for day-to-day use. Larger balls that use more than one finger or the palm of your hand are better for more precision and for larger or dual-monitor setups.

  2. Once you have a trackball and it's connected to your computer, find the pointer on the screen and fix your eyes on it. Slowly roll the ball back and forth gently until you get a rough feel for it.

  3. Change the settings using the included drivers and software. A trackball can be more sensitive than a typical mouse. Dial back the sensitivity until you're comfortable with it.

    If you have trouble with precision work, slightly increase the magnification on the monitor or inside the app.

  4. Experiment with the buttons to find what feels natural for your purposes. Decide which you prefer for left-click, right-click, and other mouse functions. Different trackballs have different input options. Some let you click by pressing on the ball in a certain direction, for example.

  5. Gradually use the trackball for different tasks. For example, use it for gaming at first, so you can practice and get a sense of how it feels. As you get more comfortable, use it for other tasks and phase out your traditional computer mouse.