Top 5 Exercises to Improve Grip Strength

Grip strength is a measure of how much force a person can generate with their fingers and thumb. It is important for activities such as playing musical instruments, typing on a keyboard, gripping tools, and even performing everyday tasks like opening jars and carrying heavy items. Grip strength is largely determined by the size and shape of the muscles in the fingers and the amount of force they can generate when contracted.

There are numerous methods for measuring and enhancing grip strength. Using handheld dynamometers that measure the amount of force generated by the fingers when pressed against a calibrated surface is one method. Additionally, exercises such as squeezing putty or tennis balls can enhance grip strength. Additionally, grappling sports such as judo and wrestling can increase grip strength. Or, a physiotherapist may ask the patient to squeeze their hands to identify any differences or weaknesses between the left and right hands.

At Surrey Physio, we see a small number of patients come in with weakness in the grip. Most often this is due to neurological injuries such as stroke, or following a compressed nerve in the neck (usually from a moderate or severe disc problem). Occasionally we see elderly people also complaining of weak grip. This is usually due to degenerative changes in the fingers, or rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes we see people who have very deformed fingers due to osteoarthritis and as you can imagine, this reduces grip. We also get asked by patients for steroid injections to the fingers. I’ve injected quite a lot of patient’s fingers and thumbs, and this certainly seems to help people with their grip strength.

However, we do try to minimise the use of steroid injections due to the small risk of side-effects, and the fact that its an invasive treatment. The main function of the steroid is to reduce inflammation and pain.

There are numerous exercises that can be used to strengthen the grip. By strengthening the muscles in the hands and forearms, weight lifting exercises, such as hanging from a bar, cable pulls, dowel rod rolls, and others can improve hand and grip strength. Finger-specific exercises, such as squeezing a hand grip or a rubber ball, are also effective for strengthening the fingers.

In addition to exercises, gentle use is a good idea to keep the hands and fingers mobile. Use it, or lose it, so people often say. Keep hydrated with plenty of water, and if you are suffering with any loss of feeling in the fingers or numbness, ensure you speak to your local physiotherapist or osteopath, or GP. Physios, especially hand physiotherapists often treat people’s hands and fingers which can help improve grip strength.

Lasty, ice and/or heat can be very beneficial to reduce pain and small amounts of inflammation at the finger joints. They can provide symptomatic relief and improve mobility in your fingers.

Let’s look at our top five exercises for strengthening your grip:

1. Hand Grip Trainer: Adjust the hand grip trainer to the required resistance setting. Squeeze the grip as far as you can, and relax. Repeat as required.

2. Grip Strength Trainer: To improve your hand grip strength, use a rubber resistance hand and finger trainer. Different colours represent different levels of resistance. Chose which resistance works best for you, and place your fingers and thumb through the holes. Squeeze your fingers together, hold, and relax.

3. Hanging: Hang from a bar and try to gently take the weight off your legs. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Avoid using the door frame or other less secure objects to perform this exercise. It's useful for tractioning and stretching the muscles and joints across the shoulders and spine.

4. Finger Flexion Putty: Hold some putty in the palm of your hand. Squeeze the putty with your fingers, then release. Use this exercise to increase finger strength and grip. You can also mould the putty in different directions using your fingers.

5. Wrist Roller: Sit or stand. Hold on to a dowel rod, stick, bar or rolling pin, with your palms facing down. Roll the dowel rod in one direction, and then the other. To make the exercise more challenging, speed up the rolling. You can also roll the dowel rod with the palms facing up as a variation.

Grip strength is essential for many daily tasks. Older people do suffer with a loss of grip strength and taking care of themselves can be problematic. If you are suffering with grip issues, try these exercises, and seek support from the Surrey Physio Team.

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