Health & Wellness

Exercises for Pain Free Hands

Your hands perform countless small and large tasks each day — from pouring coffee, brushing teeth, and buttoning shirts to raking leaves or kneading bread.

But aching hands can transform the simplest task into a painful ordeal. Hands can hurt for a variety of reasons, from the mechanical to the neurological. Arthritis — which affects one in five American adults — and other persistent joint problems are by far the most common cause of hand pain and disability.

There are many ways — including medications and surgery — to get hands back to work. One of the most important ways is through therapeutic exercises.

Some exercises help increase a joint’s range of motion, while strengthening muscles around the joint. Some commonly recommended hand exercises follow. If you have a serious hand, wrist, or arm injury, consult your doctor before leaping into the routines below. All exercises should be done slowly and deliberately, to avoid pain and injury. If you feel numbness or pain during or after exercising, stop and consult a therapist.

Stretching exercises

Stretching helps lengthen muscles and tendons. Some repetitive tasks, such as typing on a computer or gripping gardening tools, can shorten muscles and leave them tight and painful. Do these stretches gently, until you feel the stretch, but without pain. Hold the positions for a count of 15 to 30 seconds to get the most benefit. These exercises are particularly helpful for tendinitis and tight forearm muscles, which are common in people who do a lot of computer work.

For each of these exercises, do a set of four repetitions, twice a day. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds between each repetition.

Wrist extensor stretches
1. Hold one hand at chest level with the elbow bent.
2. With the other hand, grasp the thumb side of the hand and bend your wrist downward.
3. To increase the stretch, bend your wrist toward your little finger.
4. Repeat the same exercise with a straight arm.
5. Switch hands and repeat.


Wrist flexor stretches
1. Hold one hand at chest level with the elbow bent.
2. Grasp the fingers of that hand with the other.
3. Pull the hand back gently.
4. Repeat the same exercise with a straight arm.
5. Switch hands and repeat.


Resisted isometrics

These exercises work muscles against resistance. Hold each position for 10 seconds. Complete one set of 10 repetitions once or twice a day.

Isometric wrist extension
1. Hold one hand palm down on a table or other surface. Put your other hand on top of it.
2. Try to raise the lower hand, but don’t allow it to move.
3. Switch hands a repeat.


Isometric wrist flexion

Follow the same steps as above, but with your palm facing up.


Information provided by Harvard Medical School

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Dale Goodloe
8 years ago

The images for the hand exercises are very faint. I suggest 2 things whenever exercises are shown: 1) have a print option and 2) have the option of how large the words and diagrams are.

Hope someone from AMAC reads this and corrects this issue.

8 years ago

Not sure what is going on with my wrist and hand. I heard a crack and a pop a year ago, and can actually feel either a tendon or ligament slip, and when it does, it is extremely painful. Received Cortizone Shots, but it did not help. The doctor wants me to have surgery, but am terribly afraid in doing so. I know what I have now, afraid what I will have every surgery. Also, suppose to go for physical therapy, but would rather try to do something at home. Will these excercises also help my condition?

Sherry Fletcher
8 years ago

I have come to realized through practical application that all pain originates ‘up the body’ from the pain sight. Look to your back and shoulders for relief. I work at a computer all day and need to roll my shoulders frequently. You can stand with your back, bottom, and head flat against the wall, toes pointing as pigeon toed as you can (yes it is very ackward!). Try to relax and breath for as long as you can, a few minutes if possible. Notice that your hand (carpal tunnel) isn’t hurting! This keeps me working without pain. I found this wonderful info in a book called Pain Free by Peter Egoscue.

Donald B. Moore
8 years ago

I have a life insurance policy with New York life which I pay to aarp each month. I do not likw aarp and have tried to get New York life to let me make the payments to them, But have had no luck. I want to drop aarp , but do not want to loose my insurance policy. Can you help? I have had the policy for about 11 years at $85.03 each month.
Donald B. Moore

8 years ago

Great suggestions and I will try all. Another question is relating to fingers Although I am only 68 years old, my RA really hurts my fingers. I have tried compression-arthritis gloves but the fingers are always cut off after the 1st joint. My pain covers all joints and the bone in-between. I have tried the ice-hot type lotions but they don’t work all the way. I am especially awaken at night with stiffness and pain. Often I have to use the opposite hand to bend the affected fingers…What else can I do? I have been “keyboarding” for about 50 years…

Janice Pope
7 years ago
Reply to  CARN

Parrafin baths were recommended for me by two different doctors and a physical therapist. The machine can be bought at Bed, Bath, & Beyond for about $40. You will also need two packages of wax which may have to be ordered on line. Keep machine running all the time and dip one hand up to wrist in hot wax then hold above for a second or two and repeat 4 to 5 times. Wrap in plastic wrap then cover with heating pad for as long as you would like. Greatly helps stiffness and much easier to do exercises afterwards.

8 years ago

Any suggestions for residual soreness and some stiffness from trigger thumb? I had this about 10 years ago and now have arthritis in the base of my thumb. Doctor doesn’t have anything to offer but cortisone shots.
Thank you for any ideas on this.

8 years ago

Please inform those of us who experience trigger fingers. I,ve had a painful one on my ring finger for many months; it
hasn’t eased at all. Gloria

Daphne Krueger
8 years ago

What can AMAC do for me for dental plan? I don’t want to go to another insurance. I am with Health Partners and have dental just for once a year checkups. On TV there was a dental plan for $24. a month, that will pay for fillings. I don’t know if they will pay for crowns. Will watch for your comment. Your hand exercise looks good, will try it. As for 2014 election, I sure hope certain congressman are not re-elected.

ruth roberts
8 years ago
Reply to  Daphne Krueger

Daphne, Thank you for your question about Dental Insurance. My husband and I are trying to find dental insurance and what AMAC offers is not available in the MA area. I hope they can find a good plan for all of us retired folks.

Carol Ann
8 years ago

Thank you for printing this. These are the exercises that my Physical Therapist instructed me to do. They really work.

Linda S
8 years ago

I would be interested in exercises for the fingers and hand. I even have some pain in the palm of my hands

Grandma Betty
8 years ago

Some yoga positions are great for strengthening the arms, wrists and hands.

mervin ahana
8 years ago

Your diagrams does not show well in the article. Any way you can darken the drawings.

8 years ago

I will print this out and send ot to my 89 year old aunt. her hands and left foot hurt becasue of arthritus…
I wish there was something I could do for her but I am also 2000 miles away…

I hope this article will help her..

8 years ago
Reply to  dennis

Dennis – It is really nice to read something about how one can help another (relative, in this case). Your actions need to be repeated time and time again by others. Thank you for being a caring person. I am sure that your Aunt appreciates you and your actions need to be mimicked by others.

8 years ago
Reply to  dennis

My wife and I have found that applying emu oil to the arthritic area and gently messaging it in will work wonders at relieving pain. Emu oil is know to have the best penetration abilitiy into sore muscles and joints. I have even used emu oil to relieve gout pain in my toes and knees. Highly recommended. Emu oil is available from numerous sources, just to an internet search for emu oil. I’ll bet it will work well for your aunt, and she’ll be forever thankful.

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