Introduction

After any problem in the wrists, hands or fingers, it's important to get movement and strength back. This supports tissue healing and will help you get moving again.

You may not be able to return to your usual exercise levels immediately and improvements may be slow to start with. However, a gradual return to normal activities is the best way to get good short and long term results after a wrist, hand or finger problem.

When doing exercise you should listen to your pain levels, especially in the early stages. You may find that these exercises increase your symptoms slightly in the beginning. However, they should get easier over time and, with regular practice, can help to improve movement in the wrists, hands or fingers.

If the exercises do cause some discomfort then taking prescribed medication from your GP or pharmacist may help to keep you exercising.

How to tell if you're exercising at the right level

This guide can help you to understand if you're exercising at the right level. It'll also let you see how much pain or discomfort is acceptable.

It can be helpful to rate your pain out of 10 (0 being no pain 10 being the worst pain you have ever had), for example:

  • 0 to 3 - minimal pain
  • 4 to 5 - acceptable pain
  • 6 to 10 - excessive pain

Pain during exercise

Aim to keep your pain within a rating of 0 to 5. If your pain gets above this level, you can change the exercises by:

  • reducing the number of times you do a movement
  • reducing the speed of a movement
  • rest time between movements

Pain after exercise

Exercise shouldn't make your existing wrist, hand or finger pain worse overall. However, practicing new exercises can sometimes cause short term muscle pain as the body gets used to moving in new ways. This kind of pain should ease quickly and your pain should be no worse the morning after you’ve exercised.

How many and how often

You should add exercises into your routine gradually to help your wrist, hand or finger pain. 

Movement exercises

Repetitions are how often you do a single movement. When starting new exercises, it can be helpful to do 2 to 3 repetitions at a time.

It’s better to do small amounts throughout the day. For example, practise your repetitions every hour.

As this gets easier, and if you feel able to, add 1 or 2 repetitions to your movements every few days.

As you become able to do more repetitions, it can be helpful to break things up into sets. This means you could do more repetitions at a time but you'll do them less often throughout the day. For example:

  1. Do 8 repetitions.
  2. Rest for a minute.
  3. Repeat another set of 8 repetitions.
  4. Repeat this 2 to 3 times a day.

Over time you can try to increase the number of repetitions you do. You should aim for a maximum of 2 sets of 15.

Stretching exercises

The aim of a stretch is to hold a position for a longer period of time. Over time this can help to improve your range of movement. 

When doing the exercise you should be able to feel a gentle stretch. This shouldn't be sore or uncomfortable.

You should try to hold stretches for 20 to 30 seconds if possible.

Try to focus on doing sets of exercises. For example, do 2 to 3 sets of stretches. Aim to do this 2 to 3 times a day.

As you do more stretching you should feel your range of movement improve and you’ll be able to stretch further.

When to stop

Stop these exercises if they make your symptoms worse, or if they cause new pain.

If your pain worsens while following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Help and support

If your pain hasn’t improved within 6 weeks of following this advice, it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms.

Clenched wrist bend

Before starting this exercise, find out:

You should do this exercise while sitting or standing.

Bending your wrist forward and back is one repetition.

Instruction Key movement
With the side of your hand rested on a table, and your hand loosely clenched, bend your wrist and fingers towards you.
Hold for 2 seconds then bend your clenched hand away from your body. Hold for 2 seconds before returning to the starting position.

If you prefer, you can print these exercises to refer to while doing them.

Palm up/palm down

Before starting this exercise, find out:

You should do this exercise while sitting or standing.

Bending your wrist from left to right is one repetition.

Instruction Key movement
Rest the back of your hand on a table.
Gradually lift your hand so that your thumb points to the ceiling.
Place your hand face down on the table.
Slowly return your hand to the starting position.

If you prefer, you can print these exercises to refer to while doing them.

Hand clench

Before starting this exercise, find out:

You should do this exercise while sitting or standing.

Clenching and unclenching your hand is one repetition.

Instruction Key movement
With the side of your hand rested on a table, and your fingers and wrist straight, clench your hand into a loose fist.
Hold for 2 seconds then unclench and straighten your fingers.

If you prefer, you can print these exercises to refer to while doing them.

Finger curl

Before starting this exercise, find out:

You should do this exercise while sitting or standing. You may find it easier if you support your elbow on a table.

Uncurling and curling your fingers is one repetition.

Instruction Key movement
With your hand facing away from you, gradually curl your fingers inwards. Start at the top joints of your fingers, then the middle ones and then finally curl in the knuckles. Hold for a few seconds.
Slowly straighten out the fingers. Start at the knuckles, then the middle joints followed by the top joints of your fingers.

If you prefer, you can print these exercises to refer to while doing them.

Finger and thumb touch

Before starting this exercise, find out:

You should do this exercise while sitting or standing. You may find it easier if you support your elbow on a table.

One touch back and forth is one repetition.

Instruction Key movement
Place your palm out in front of you with your fingers stretched out.
Touch your thumb to the top of your little finger and then stretch your hand out again.

If you prefer, you can print these exercises to refer to while doing them.

Flexed hand clench

Before starting this exercise, find out:

You should do this exercise while sitting or standing. You may find it easier if you support your elbow on a table.

Uncurling and curling your fingers is one repetition.

Instruction Key movement
Place your hand out in front with your fingers straight.
Bring your fingers into a fist shape.
Tilt your wrist so that it faces towards your body. Only do this as far as is comfortable.

If you prefer, you can print these exercises to refer to while doing them.

Thumb stretch

Before starting this exercise, find out:

You should do this exercise while sitting or standing. You may find it easier if you support your elbow on a table.

One set back and forth is one repetition.

Instruction Key movement
Place your arm out in front with your fingers straight and your thumb pointing towards the ceiling.
Bring your thumb down to touch the bottom of your pinkie finger.
Return to the starting position with your finger stretched out and your thumb pointing towards the ceiling.

If you prefer, you can print these exercises to refer to while doing them.

Last updated:
27 June 2022