As an orthopedist, I most often deal with broken bones in people of all ages and/or aging bone issues in people over 45, like osteoporosis. I also see a lot of arthritis in my patients that affects how able they are to simply move their bones – especially the bones of the hands – without stiffness or pain.
So, if you’ve got arthritis in your hands and sometimes have stiffness, or locking, in the joints of your fingers, you’ll want to read about how to unlock that stiffness and keep your hand joints flexible.
How to Loosen Up Stiff Hand Joints with Exercise
You may have experienced the feeling – waking up with stiffness, locking, and maybe even a little numbness in some of your fingers. If you use your hands a lot at your work – say keyboarding on a computer, assembling items, sewing, or anything that involves fine movements of your fingers, you may also experience stiffness after working for a while. You know how frustrating it can be when your finger joints aren’t responding the way you need them to.
The following 10 exercises can really help keep your hand joints more limber with less pain and stiffness. They can also help your range of motion – how far, and well, you can move your hands and fingers. Do the motions slowly/lightly to start, especially if your hands are stiff and painful. Then as hands improve, you can be more vigorous in your movements, to your comfort level.
1. Warm your hands. First, I want you to warm your hands. At the bathroom or kitchen sink, turn on the hot water, not too hot as I don’t want you to burn yourself, just comfortably warm. Hold your hands beneath the running water for several minutes, flexing your hands in an opening and closing motion.
2. Flex your hands. Next, I want you to make a fist, closing your fingers completely into your palm. Then, open your hand widely and stretch the fingers apart. Repeat this for 10 times. Like stretching your entire body, this exercise helps stretch and loosens your entire hand.
3. Finger/palm stretch. Next, place your hand on a flat surface, letting it lie comfortably, slightly naturally elevated. Then, flatten the palm of your hand against the surface as much as you can without unnaturally forcing your joints. Repeat this 10 times. This helps relieve pain and improve motion.
4. Claw flex. Next, make a “claw” by bending your four long fingers down so that the fingertips touch the palm. Bend your thumb in to touch the palm as well. Hold for 30 seconds then release. Repeat 10 times. Improves range of motion in your fingers and helps loosen stiff joints.
5. Ball flex. Next, get a tennis ball or soft rubber ball the same size. Hold it in the palm of your hand and squeeze your fingers into it. Hold for 20 seconds then release. Repeat 10 times. This helps to strengthen your entire hand.
6. Pinch flex. Next, with your soft rubber ball, or even a ball of Play-Doh, hold the ball in your hand and pinch your fingertips into the surface of the ball. Hold for 20 seconds, repeat 10 times. Go slowly/softly if your thumb joint is very arthritic and stiff. This will help to strengthen the muscles of your entire hand.
7. Finger lifts. Next, lie your hand comfortably flat on a surface. Starting with your thumb, slowly lift each finger off the surface, while the rest of your hand stays flat. Repeat 10 times, each hand. This exercise will increase the range of motion and build flexibility.
8. Thumb extension. Next, hold one hand up in front of you, fingers together. Now, slowly lower your thumb to form an “L” between your index and thumb. Repeat this exercise 10 times for each hand. It helps strengthen the muscles of your thumb allowing you to grasp/hold objects.
9. Thumb flex. Now, turn your hand around so the palm faces you. Flex your extended thumb back to touch the base of your little finger, or as far as you can go, third or fourth finger. Repeat this 10 times each hand. This helps increase the range of motion of your thumbs.
10. A-OK Sign. Now, I want you to make the “A-OK” sign going through each of your fingers, starting with your index, down to your little finger. Begin by holding the palm of your hand up straight, and join the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb, forming an O, while your other 3 fingers are still standing straight. Do this with each of your fingers. Repeat 10 times on each hand. This helps with entire hand and thumb range of motion and builds flexibility.
Some additional tips to keep your hands and fingers more flexible are to be sure you’re getting enough Omega-3 fatty acids (2,000 mg a day), quercetin 500 mg, to help fight inflammation in joints, optimal collagen (see my colleague Dr. Rosenberg’s article on Collagen) in the foods and supplements you take to help strengthen ligaments and tendons, and be sure to drink enough water so joints are well-lubricated. Do the exercises at least once a day for a week to start, as they can make your hands feel better fast. Then, increase exercises to twice a day for a week. After a few weeks, your pain and stiffness should be significantly reduced.