Getting a Handle on Hand Strength

Retha Sisler
Written by
Retha Sisler

A couple of months ago, I faced a fun but still challenging task when my six year old grandaughter’s teacher asked me to give her students a paper cut art class. Although I often do art projects with Sylvia, a group of very eager, busy little kids made this a totally different ballgame! The day that I went in to teach them was a very cold winter’s morning, which has a serious impact on already slightly weak and stiff multiple sclerosis fingers. Once we got into the classroom – we all happily did fingers and hand warm up exercises together which quickly fixed any stiffness I was facing. After a few minutes, my fingers were not only more responsive but also those little hands around me were also nicely warmed up and ready for the task ahead. Between us – this was also an easy way to get rid of some of their bouncing energy so that they could concentrate on the lesson.

Weak hands and stiff fingers impair my ability to lift and hold onto objects as well as my ability to write, type or do something creative such as art, in this case paper cut art, and needlework. Sometimes handling keys to unlock doors or using washing pegs can be really problematic for me. I try to exercise regularly to strengthen my hand muscles - sometimes just a few exercises and repetitions, other times a proper workout. I believe it really helps me to be able to perform all the tasks I need and want to do. I have included some of my favorite hand exercises below in hopes that they help you as much as they have helped me:

• Squeezing - Squeezing a ball strengthen my core hand muscles. It improves my grip strength, and therefore helps me more easily open doors and bottles, and to hold objects. I do this exercise with a small ball that fits into the palm of my hand. I wrap my fingers around it and squeeze as hard as I can for approximately three to five seconds. I repeat the squeezing 10 times per hand.

• Stretching – I strengthen my finger extensors with a rubber band. I place the band around my fingers and thumb and simply push out against the band’s resistance as much as I can manage. I repeat stretching 10 times.

• Flexing – I do wrist flexion and extension exercises to improve my range of motion and increase the strength in my hands, including my wrists and fingers. I sit with my elbow bent and palm facing up, holding a light weight. I keep my elbow and forearm steady and curl my wrist up, pause and then lower it slowly. I repeat this exercise 10 times with both hands. I also train my wrist extensor muscles by flipping both of my forearms over so my palms face down, then bend the wrists to bring the hands up, pause and then back to the original position. I repeat this action 10 times.

• Forearm rotation – I rest my right elbow on the table and move my right arm sideways to the right as far as I can without any discomfort and up again and then to the left and up again. I repeat this action with left hand and arm. I repeat 10 times.

• Finger presses - finger presses strengthen the core muscles in my fingers, thumbs and the palms of the hands. Stronger fingers and thumbs allow me to pick up and hold on to small or larger objects more easily. I do this exercise by pressing my thumb to each of my fingertips for approximately five seconds, I repeat the pressing 3 times per finger.

• Wrist control - I sit at the table and hold a stick in both hands with my arms resting on the table. I then flex my wrists up and down again. I repeat the flexing action 10 times.

• Hand climb – I hold a stick straight up between both hands and let my hands climb one over the other to the top of the stick and down again without dropping the stick. I repeat 5 times

• Finger crawl – I hold a stick straight up between fingers of my right hand and let fingers crawl to the top of the stick and down again. I repeat this finger crawling with my left hand. I repeat 5 times.

• Throw and catch – I throw a small ball in the air and catch it with the same hand. I then throw and catch with my other hand. I repeat 5 times.

With continued practice, I have found that these exercises have really helped me get a better hold on my daily activities. What are some of your favorite activities to improve hand strength?

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