Hesperian Health Guides

Range-of-Motion and Strengthening Exercises for the Hand and Wrist


These exercises can help bring back or maintain strength and range of motion of the hand. They are useful after injuries (or surgery) to the hand. after broken arm bones near the wrist have healed, and for arthritis, or partial paralysis from any cause (polio, spinal cord injury, stroke).

To do these exercises, the person should move the hand as much as possible without help. Then, if motion is not complete, use another hand to bend and straighten the fingers or wrist as much as possible without forcing.

Repeat each exercise 10 to 20 times, at least 2 times every day.

1. Close and spread the fingers as much as possible.
a closed hand and a hand with fingers spread
2. Open. Bend like this. Make a fist.
open hand, bent hand, and hand made into a fist
3. Make 'O's with the thumb and each finger.
O shape being made with thumb toushing each finger
After you can make the large 'O's, repeat making the 'O' as small as you can.
Small O shape made with thumb and pointer finger

4. Bend wrist forward and backward.(Backward is more difficult but is especially important.) 5. Spread and close the thumb.
wrist being bent back and forth
hand with thumb spreading and closing
6. Bend the wrist from side to side. 7. Turns hands upward and downward--as far as you can.
wrist being bent side to side
hands being turned upwards and downwards


Look for ways to make hand exercises fun.

For example, try to learn sign language from a deaf child.
two children talking in sign language
Or play ‘shadow puppets’ with a light.
Children forming shadow puppets with hands.

Aids for hand exercise

You can buy a simple hand exerciser like this.
Hand exerciser, hand grasping exerciser.
Or make one like this. If the child makes it herself, that will also be good exercise for her hands.
Hand grasping homemade hand exerciser.
Move this post forward or back to make it harder or easier to squeeze the aid.

This ‘acrobatic bear’ is more work to make, but even more fun to exercise and play with.

Thin piece of wood with string tied in middle.
Trace and cut out these pieces from wood or cardboard.
Parts of flat parts of bear cut from cardboard.
Fasten arms and legs loosely on body by putting a cord through holes.
Pass a cord through holes in poles and in this piece.
Hand squeezing acrobatic bear toy.

Child exercises hand by squeezing poles of acrobatic bear toy.
Squeezing the poles makes the bear ‘loop the loop’.
Acrobatic bear toy.
See if you can make the bear sit.

To have the child squeeze harder, attach a piece of rubber hose or car tire between the poles.
DVC Ch42 Page 392-11.png
view from above showing how string passes through holes in poles and paws
A hand exerciser with rubber hose between the poles

A child can also get squeezing exercise with the hands by milking goats, cutting with scissors or shears, punching holes in leather or paper with a hand punch (while making things), by washing and wringing clothes, and in many other ways.

See examples of how different kinds of exercises are used for different disabilities.

This page was updated:27 May 2020