Hand and Wrist Exercises

Often I get asked for hand and wrist exercises even by people I am treating for other conditions.  Overuse conditions such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Osteoarthritis are common in the general population.  Poor posture and body mechanics worsen many conditions.

Following are some general hand and wrist exercises.  As with any post on this site, you should see your therapist or doctor for diagnosis, and exercise within the scope of his or her recommendations.

Start with your hand flat.

Now lift your thumb straight up toward the ceiling.  Hold 3 seconds and return to starting position.  Repeat 8-10 times.

Next, keep you thumb down against the table, but move it out away from the rest of the fingers as far as it will go.  Hold 3 seconds, and return to starting position.  Repeat 8-10 times.

You may want to try spreading all the fingers and holding 3 seconds.  

Next we’ll try something a little different:  Try touching the thumb to each of the fingers one at a time.  Go through each finger 5x.

Great!  Now, let’s do something for the muscles that lie under the palm of the hand between the long bones.  They are called lumbricals.  This could be called the puppet exercise, as this hand position mimics those used in puppetry.

The next two are for the wrist.  They are easy, perhaps obvious, ways to stretch. They are an important part of any hand program.

Wrist extension:

Wrist flexion:

The next several photos are a series that comprise a nerve glide for the upper extremity.

Begin with arm outstretched and wrist bent.

Now extend the wrist.

Try turning your head away from your arm and hold 10 seconds, then return to starting position.

Bend the elbow until it looks like you could hold a tray on your hand.

Then bring the hand up toward the ear.

Watch for further posts on hand and arm exercises.


Trunk Stability II

These are dedicated to Kathy, who has had an excellent recovery following a car accident, and who always brings a cheerful smile to the clinic.

Begin with tubing anchored to a solid object.  Stand with arms out to the sides at shoulder level gripping the tubing.  Rotate your arms upward with the elbows bent, then rotate back down so that fists face the anchor, keeping elbows at shoulder level the entire time.

Next face the anchor and pull both arms backward toward your hips.  Hold 3 seconds and return to starting position.  Repeat until tired, and add one repetition!

Now pull the theraband as if you are rowing a boat.   Pull up to the armpits, hold 2 seconds, then relax the arms again.  Repeat until your arms are tired, and add one repetition!


*More to come soon in this category…

Core Exercises

A big buzzword in the fitness industry the last several years has been “core strength.”  The term CORE refers to the trunk (the thorax and abdomen).  Core strength is important because the trunk is the base from which the limbs work.  A weak core means a weak body, and while the vertebral column is created for mobility, it suffers if the supportive muscles are too weak to protect it from overuse.

Following are a group of exercises designed to strengthen the core:

(Also see post on Core Exercises with Swill Ball)

Lying with knees bent, hold a playground ball between knees and rotate both knees to one side.  Keep your shoulders flat on the floor throughout the exercise.  Then rotate toward the other side. If you want to get the most out of it, cross your arms over your chest, and don’t use them to help push your body from side to side.  To make this one more challenging, try holding your hips just slightly off the floor as you rotate from side to side.

This is the beginning position for many of the exercises to follow.  Lie on your back with knees bent, and try to pull your belly button downward toward the floor.  Hold this position, but keep breathing with the upper abdominals. Hold 10 seconds, while breathing, then relax the muscles, and begin again!

The above are sequential exercises for abdominal strengthening.  Begin on your back with knees bent.  Next lift elbow to meet opposite knee.  Repeat to other side.  Do not use quick forceful movements, and do not hold your breath.  Work slowly, and repeat to each side a number of times until tired.    Do not do these exercises if they cause pain.

Try lying on your back as in the previous exercises and straightening one leg.  Keep the upper thigh in parallel with the other thigh.  Now, lift your hips off the table.  Hold for 5, then hips down, foot down, switch legs, and begin again!  Don’t forget to keep breathing!!

PLANKING!  or so it is called, means keeping your trunk stiff while supported at either end.  Now HOLD that!  For our purposes, keep breathing–lol!  After 30 seconds, relax, and then plank again!  Good luck~!


There are many, many variations on these exercises.  These are a few to get you started!  Good for toning, and stability.

Shoulder Stretching

Following are some easy ways to get started on stretching a stiff or sore shoulder:

(Remember general exercise programs are no substitute for evaluation by your physical therapist or physician).

Hold your arms straight out from your shoulders. Hold a cane, yardstick, dowel rod, or broom handle in both hands with elbows bent.  Slowly rotate arms until the cane touches your forehead, then down until it touches your tummy.  You may want to stop at the top and at the bottom to allow muscles to stretch.  Move slowly, and repeat x 10.

Next hold the wand like you would a bar bell, and do a bench press.

Now hold the wand in front of you and use the stronger arm to help stretch the weak or tight arm out to the side, and up and over the head.

Hold 10 seconds and then relax..

Now, move the cane behind you and grasp with both hands.

Slowly draw the wand up behind you until you feel a stretch.  Hold 10 seconds.  Repeat.

The next one can be a tough one.  Place your limited arm behind your back (or as close as you can get). Raise the other arm above your shoulder, and drop the wand down to the other hand.

Use the top arm to stretch the bottom arm upward.  This should be a gentle stretch.  Hold 10 seconds.  Repeat.

Finally, stand with one foot in the corner, and both forearms on the wall.  lean in toward the corner, and feel the stretch in the front of the shoulder.  Hold 10 seconds.  Repeat.

Calf Stretch

Here is an easy way to stretch your calf muscles:

You do not have to have a fancy wedge like we have in the picture.

You can use a thick book such as a phone book, or use a short piece of 2×4. 

Place the ball of your foot or feet on the wedge, book etc.  Keep your knees straight, and your heels on the floor.  Do not rock back and forth or raise up on your toes.  Just stand still and allow gravity to do the stretching for you!

Next, hold this position, but bend your knees.  You will feel the stretch move lower in your calf.  Hold 30 seconds.

Both these stretches are important because there are two main calf muscles.  One stretches most when your knee is straight, and the other when your knee is bent.  One of these muscles is most active when you are standing still, and the other when you are walking, running, or climbing. 

Here is one more option:

 Stand with the ball of your foot on the edge of a step.  Now drop your heel(s) down below the level of the step.  Hold 30 seconds.  You may repeat this one with your knees bent as well.  On this one, make sure you have a firm hand-hold for balance !


Note:  These exercises are intended as a review of exercises taught in therapy, and not as an individual prescription for exercise. 

Hip Stretching

Hip muscles are significant in low back pain because they derive part of their attachment from the low back.  Therefore, when hip muscles are tight, they can cause low back pain.  Here are some choices for stretching hip muscles:

Lie at the edge of the table or bed with the right knee pulled up to your chest, and your left leg hanging over the edge of the table.  This will stretch the right hip extensor, and the left hip flexor (Note that in the picture above, the young man’s left thigh is not able to reach the table.  This is due to a tight left hip flexor).  From this position, you would want your left thigh to drop below the level of the table.  If you can relax in this position, you will get a good hip flexor stretch.  Hold 30 seconds.  Repeat by reversing which leg is in each position.

The above picture shows another method of stretching hip flexors.  Place one foot on a step and keep your hips tucked under (like a dog tucking its tail).  Keeping your body upright, lunge forward toward the front leg.  The stretch should be felt in the front of the leg that is on the floor.  Hold 30 seconds.

You may also try a kneeling hip stretch:

To stretch the right hip, kneel on the right knee.  Keep your hips tucked under while you lunge forward toward the left foot.  Keep your torso upright throughout the stretch.  Hold 30 seconds and repeat. You may also stretch the opposite hip in the same way.

This one is for the piriformis, a deep rotator of the hip:

This one is a bit complicated to learn, but a very effective stretch:  To stretch the right side, bend the right knee and place your right ankle over the left knee.  Next, bend your left knee up toward your chest, and use your arms to pull the left leg up further, giving an additional stretch to the right side.  Hold 30 seconds.  Repeat for the left side.

The following is an alternative stretch for the deep rotators of the hip:

Lie on your back and pull your knee toward the opposite shoulder.  Hold 30 seconds.  Repeat with opposite leg. 

*note:  Stretches should not HURT.  you should stretch the muscle to the point of tension, and maybe some mild discomfort.  Do not stretch into pain!  A relaxed muscle stretches better than a painful, tense one! 

Neck Stretches

Helpful stretches for

neck pain or headaches:

This one is for the upper trapezius

It stretches the muscles that shrug the shoulders.  On the side you wish to stretch, place your arm behind your back.  Tilt your head to  the opposite side, and use your opposite arm to GENTLY assist with the stretch.  The weight of your arm on your head should create enough pull.  Hold 30 seconds.

This one is for the “Levator,”

a muscle that attaches the shoulder blade to the neck.

Perform this stretch as the one above, except you should turn your head toward the opposite arm pit for the stretch.  Hold 30 seconds. 

Here is another activity you can try:


Note the man above moves from a head forward position to a chin tuck position.   Perform this chin tuck, and then rotate your head as far as you can, first to one side, and then to the other.  Hold 3 seconds at each side. 

Now tilt your chin down toward the shoulder and hold 3 seconds. 

You can repeat this stretch to the other side. 

Another option for increasing motion of the neck is to begin with the chin tuck, and as you turn your head see-saw your chin up and down until you reach as much rotation as you are able.  End with the chin down toward the armpit.