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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

November 2013


Gina John

Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:



This month: Which exercises would help to strengthen hands and wrists, and ease stiffness and pain?

Q: Since I have arthritis in both my hips and knees, I have to rely on my arms to a great extent, especially on getting out of bed or a chair. Consequently, my hands and wrists are often stiff and painful and prone to straining, with the pressure. Please would you advise me on which exercises would help to strengthen my hands and wrists, and help my symptoms?

A: A common problem for people with mobility issues is the over-dependence on the upper body for moving from one position to another.  Particularly if you are wheelchair-bound, or if you have arthritis in the lower extremity joints, strengthening the upper back, shoulders, wrists and hands will be of prime importance.

If you suffer with stiffness and pain in your hands and wrists, it is prudent to consult an Osteopath or Physiotherapist who will determine if this is just a muscular problem or if there is an underlying joint disease, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Osteoarthritis.  An X-ray may be necessary to provide a full diagnosis.  In patients, who have been diagnosed with arthritic problems in one or two joints, it is possible that there is also arthritis in other stiff and painful joints.

Manual therapy, ultrasound and exercise are effective treatments for muscle pains and the symptoms associated with Osteoarthritis, whereas in cases of Rheumatoid Arthritis drug therapy with Steroids is usually required. Injection therapy into the joint or adjacent tendons may also provide symptomatic relief.  Exercise may be possible depending on the severity of the symptoms. Certainly research suggests that most patients diagnosed with Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis will benefit from the prescription of exercise.

When starting to exercise it is important to consider that the many small intrinsic muscles in the hand and extrinsic muscles which descend from the elbow and cross the wrist are weak. It may take 2-3 months to reach your goal of being confident in using them to manoeuvre your body without pain.  However, with a target of performing exercises 5-7 days per week, you will start to feel the benefits within 2 weeks. Unfortunately, with the constant requirement to overwork your wrists and hands in changing your posture or position, straining is always a risk. It is therefore, necessary to rest and avoid overworking the upper body, if you feel tired or unwell. And of course, keeping a healthy diet and drinking plenty of water also helps to keep our muscles in good shape!

It is important to discontinue any exercise which causes pain and consult your General Practitioner or a physiotherapist for further advice.

The following stretching exercises can be performed 2 – 3 daily, to relive the stiffness in your wrists.

  1. Circle your wrists 10 times clockwise and 10 times anti clockwise, to gently stretch the wrists and improve the blood circulation.


  1. Straighten your left arm fully and bend the left wrist, by pulling down the left fingers with your right hand. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat the stretch to the right wrist.





  1. Keeping the left arm straight, bend the left wrist by pulling up your fingers to the ceiling. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat the stretch to the right wrist.




Strengthening the shoulders as well as the arms in general will help you to relieve the stress on your hands and wrists, particularly in view of your dependence on your upper body and extremities. The following exercises are designed to help strengthen the entire upper extremity when performed correctly. So, ensure you maintain a strong upright posture and keep pressing your shoulders down towards your hips while performing the exercises. It is also beneficial to keep pulling in your abdominal muscles, by scooping back your navel towards the spine, to maintain the correct posture and enable you to anchor down the shoulders effectively.

Tennis Ball Squeezes
Sit or stand with your elbows pressed into your waist and holding a tennis ball in each hand. Keep your elbows at 90 degrees, palms facing to the ceiling while you squeeze the tennis balls firmly for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat 10 times.

If your hands and wrists feel weak, start by squeezing the balls with around 30-50% of your full strength and then increase the effort to 100% over time, to avoid straining.

You can also acquire hand and wrist strengthening balls, which are softer and more pliable than tennis balls, from physiotherapy suppliers or by emailing your request to:

Wrist Twist
Hold a towel between your hands and twist one hand forwards while twisting the other hand backwards. Then, reverse this action and repeat up to 20 times. This has the effect of flexing one wrist while extending the other to condition the wrist muscles, while at the same time, strengthening the intrinsic hand muscles which are used for gripping.

Biceps Curls
Sit or stand with your arms alongside the body, holding a tennis ball or light free weight (between 500g to 1.5kg). Start with the palms of your hands facing inwards, towards the body and then bend your elbows while turning the knuckles towards your shoulders. Repeat up to 30 times, while hugging the elbows closely into the sides of the waist. It is important not to let the elbows drift away from your waist during this exercise.

You may wish to start by holding a small can of beans or a can of soup for this exercise or just hold the tennis balls if your wrists and arms are exceptionally weak.


See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for future columns, or feedback, by email to Gina John on

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