Bone and Joint Health

5 Hand Exercises for Dexterity and Flexibility

Originally published January 15, 2016

Last updated April 26, 2024

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A person wearing a wrist splint holds a squeeze ball

We use our hands every day, from texting to cooking to giving high fives. So how do we keep our palms and digits in good working shape?

Many times, our hands can become tired, sore and painful. If you have arthritis, tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome or other uncomfortable hand ailment, you might experience these symptoms more regularly.

Think of the hand as a plant, while the median nerve, which supplies power and feeling to the hand, is similar to a garden hose. If the garden hose is compressed, then the plant will not receive what it needs to function. This is when patients have symptoms.

There are many exercises that can help strengthen your hands and fingers, increase your range of motion and provide you temporary, or even longer-term pain relief. We reached out to an orthopedic specialist to learn more about exercises for the hand and fingers that can help you increase flexibility, dexterity and strength.

1. Grab a squeeze ball.

Grab a soft ball and hold it in your palm, squeezing it as hard as you can without causing your hands pain. Hold this position for three to five seconds, and then release. Work up to repeating this exercise 10 to 12 times for each of your hands. Continue this exercise two to three times weekly, but rest approximately two days before your next session. This exercise will provide the ability to hold things without dropping them, as well as help you open door knobs throughout your day.

“Grabbing a squeeze ball may also exacerbate pain from arthritis,” says Rachel Lefebvre, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Keck Medicine of USC. “It can be a good idea to check with your physician before using tools like a squeeze ball or hand grip strengthener.”

2. Put up your dukes and make a fist.

With each hand, independently make a gentle fist, then wrap your thumb across your fingers. Hold this position for up to one minute, then release and spread open all of your fingers as wide as you can. Repeat this exercise three to fives times with each hand. This can help you increase your range of motion.

3. Get relief when you exercise.

Warming up your hands before you exercise can help alleviate discomfort, which will subsequently have the potential to make your stretching and movement become easier. Suggested treatments include, soaking them in warm water, wrapping them in a heated towel or using a heating pad for approximately five to 10 minutes. To gain an even deeper warming effect for your hands, you can rub some oil into your hands, put on a pair of rubber gloves and soak them in warm water, or use a heated towel or heating pad. This method may help your hands feel better, especially if you regularly experience pain or stiffness in your hands and fingers.

4. Lift your fingers.

Starting with your left hand, place it flat, palm down, on a table. Starting with your thumb, gently lift each finger at a time slowly off the table. Hold each of your fingers one to two seconds, and then lower them. Repeat with your right hand and then repeat eight to 10 times for each hand. This exercise can help increase the range of motion of your hands, as well as finger flexibility.

5. Stretch your wrists

Many people, particularly women, have wrist pain during exercise, especially yoga and lifting heavy objects. Sometimes, they even feel this when lifting their children. A stretching exercise for the wrist may help increase flexibility and decrease discomfort. To complete this exercise, extend your right arm in front of you with your palm facing toward the floor. Bend your wrist, pointing the tips of your fingers toward the floor. With your left hand, gently bend your wrist toward you until you feel a mild to moderate stretch in your forearm (that means behind your wrist). Hold this position for at least 15 to 30 seconds, switch to your left arm and then repeat two to four times.

“If you’re having numbness or tingling in your hand, you should be evaluated by a physician,” says Lefebvre, who specializes in the treatment of hand and wrist injuries. “If you have weakness in your hands that’s not improving with strengthening exercises or that’s concerning to you, you should be evaluated by a hand specialist.”