Improve your range of motion and ease aches with these hand exercises.
By Taylor Dahl
If you have arthritis, you’re probably reminded of it every time you turn a key, open a jar or write, since it tends to affect the hands and wrists the most. To ease the stiffness, aches and pains of arthritis, move your hands every day. “If you don't use certain motions in the hand, you will lose them,” says Sam Crosby, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Elite Sports Medicine and Orthopedics at TriStar Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.
Try these five exercises to keep your hands moving freely, but remember to talk to your doctor before starting any exercise routine. If you feel pain, tingling or popping or are unable to do these exercises, see a hand specialist.
“The fist flex helps make sure you have full digital range of motion,” says Dr. Crosby. Hold your hands upright, fingers apart. Gently draw your fingers into a fist, placing your thumbs on the outside. Don't squeeze or clench your fist. Hold for a few seconds, and then open your hands back to the starting position with fingers spread apart. Hold your hands open for a few seconds, and then repeat the fist movement. Do 5 to 10 of these close-and-open sets.
Put your hands in the "thumbs-up" position, and gently rotate your thumbs in a circular motion. Switch directions after a few seconds or until you feel full range of motion in the thumb, adds Crosby.
“Thumb circles are one of the most beneficial hand exercises as long as it doesn’t cause you extreme pain,” says Crosby.
Hold your hands upright, with your fingers spread comfortably apart. Touch your thumbs to the tips of your littlest fingers on the same hand, and then open your hands back up to the starting position. Repeat with the next closest fingers, and continue until your thumbs have touched all four fingertips on the same hand.
“As people age, they lose some of their pinch strength,” Crosby says. His solution? Buy some putty. “We use putty a lot of times in hand therapy because it provides more resistance,” he adds. If you don't have putty, a stress ball works just as well.
Pinch the putty or the stress ball between the tips of your fingers and thumb, hold for up to 60 seconds and repeat a dozen times on each hand a few times a week.
This exercise is a great way to help mobility and keep full function of your wrist, says Crosby. Rest your forearms on the arms of a chair so your wrists are supported by the ends of the chair’s arms and your fingers hang free. Bend your wrists back, lifting your hands up toward you, and then lower your hands back down. Repeat the lifting and lowering 5 to 10 times. Next, try some rotations. Keep your elbows in place, and rotate your forearms so your palms are facing upward. Hold for a moment, and then rotate again, turning your palms back over. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
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