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If you've recently suffered a stroke or care for someone that has, you'll know all too well that regaining strength in your hand and arm muscles is of the utmost importance. After a stroke, the brain's primary learning centre is damaged and consequently, new neural patterns are created to help the patient relearn basic movement in their hands and fingers.
Performing daily hand exercises can help restore this lost function, assisting the brain in its mission to rewire the circuits responsible for movement and flexibility. The following hand exercises can be done in your own time at home -- it's important to note, however, that some exercises may be too hard or too easy depending on your level of impairment, so consult with a physiotherapist to ensure you are taking things at your own pace. Here are 4 hand exercises to encourage a quick recovery.
To regain dexterity, hands must play with and manipulate objects using a combination of rotation and translation skills, For example, translation can involve moving buttons or coins from the fingertips to the palm and back. Rotation typically involves using a pen or similar object and rolling it between your fingers as well as practicing your grip to improve hand strength.
Depending on your stage of recovery, these exercises can vary in difficulty. Simple hand manipulation can include stacking pennies or picking up cups and placing them down in different spots, whilst more advanced techniques can involve typing, buttoning up a shirt or assembling toy bricks. Find out which exercises feel comfortable for you and practice them for 2-3 minutes each day.
'Theraputty' refers to manipulating a soft ball of putty or play-doh in your hand. This is very effective for increasing everything from finger strength and dexterity to hand and wrist flexibility. These are a number of Theraputty exercises you can try:
Mirror box therapy
Sometimes, it can significantly help your progress if you can simply imagine your affected limb moving again, and this is precisely what mirror box therapy enables you to do. A mirror box is a small, collapsible box with a mirror on one side and an opening where your unaffected hand can be placed inside. Essentially, this works by placing your affected hand inside the box and your good hand adjacent to it in front of the mirror. The idea is to watch your good hand move about and perform simple exercises in front of the mirror. This then provides your brain with artificial visual feedback and tricks it into thinking you are moving your affected hand instead.
As strange as it sounds, mirror box therapy is actually an invaluable tool for stroke recovery as it can rebuild shaken confidence in patients. Following a stroke, your brain is attempting to rewire itself, and this visual trickery can help activate sleepy pathways that have otherwise been dormant before.
Paralyzed hand exercises
Finally, there are exercises that can help aid movement in paralyzed hands. In the very early stages of stroke recovery, patients are often unable to move the hand or fingers. However, beneficial exercises can still be carried out using the other good hand to manipulate the paralyzed one. The good hand, for example, can try to elicit movement in the paralyzed hand by gently tapping the muscles in your forearm. Doing so regularly can promote flexibility and straightening of the wrist. Repeat this tapping action on your wrist to encourage sensation in the fingers too.
You can also practice holding your affected hand out flat on a table and try keeping it there without the fingers curling up. Similarly, you could rest your hand on a large ball (large enough so that your hand perfectly cups it) and try to keep it there without it falling off.
Along with the above exercises, there may be other techniques and treatments that your physical therapist can suggest to help improve hand function and ensure you make great progress in your recovery.