After hours of pointing and clicking, some users may start to feel discomfort in their wrists, hands or arms. Over the long-term this discomfort may even lead to Repetitive Stress Injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Luckily a number of companies have devised mouse pads with attached wrist supports to help alleviate strain and place the wrist in a more natural position. While often helpful, these types of pads can actually contribute to discomfort or even Repetitive Stress Injuries of their own. It's up to the savvy consumer to know both the advantages and disadvantages of using mouse pads with integrated wrist supports.
Though they come in many shapes, sizes and materials, most mousepads with wrist pads are similar in design. Attached to the back of the pad is a soft upraised support designed to keep the wrist in a straighter, more natural position. The soft support pad also acts to cushion the wrist from the usually hard mousing surface like a table or desk. A tell-tale sign of someone that's been mousing too long are the red pressure marks on the underside of the wrist and palm heel.
While supporting the wrist with a soft pad and helping to keep it in a straighter position is beneficial, there are some drawbacks that users need to be aware of. Because there is a tendency to let the wrist "sink" into the soft pad and stay in that spot, lateral movement can become a problem. When moving from right to left, the user should be wary of bending the wrist too much and try to slide the whole wrist if needed, as on a flat mouse pad.
Another problem is that the pad itself often inhibits the motion of the mouse. As a result there is a tendency to lift the mouse often due to lack of space on the pad. Another danger is gripping the mouse in an unnatural way because the wrist support pushes the mouse further forward from the reach of the hand.
As long as the user is aware of these issues, he or she can make a better choice when selecting one. Make sure that the wrist support isn't so big that it pushes the mouse out of comfortable reach from the hand, and be sure that the pad is large enough to comfortably move the mouse around on. Secondly, make sure the wrist support isn't too soft, or else there is the danger of letting your wrist and palm heel "sink" into the support and inhibit lateral movement.
Supports are constructed out of all kinds of materials like foam, gel, neoprene or silicone. It's really up to the user to decide which one feels the best. Spend a few minutes trying out all the available choices at the store and choose the one that feels right for your body. Finally, if at anytime during mousing there is any discomfort, the best advice is to simply take a break.