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6 Hand Exercises for MS

Hand exercises enable you to better perform activities that require hand strength and fine motor skills. Corbis

MS can affect your hands’ ability to feel, as well as their strength and dexterity. These specialized movement therapy exercises can help.

Numbness or tingling in the hands, arms, and legs is often the earliest symptom of multiple sclerosis (MS), but symptoms affecting the hands can also include pain, muscle weakness, tremors, and problems with hand-eye coordination.

All of these symptoms are caused by a disruption in communication between the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) and the sensory nerves in the hands.

When your hands are affected, everyday tasks — such as writing, typing, getting dressed, and grasping or picking up objects — become more difficult.

Is there anything that can help? Yes. In a word, exercise.

While hand exercises likely won't relieve numbness, they can help you maintain or improve your hand function, so you are better able to perform activities that require hand strength and fine motor skills.

“For people like me, who have relapsing-remitting MS, you might find that your grip and function come back with exercises,” says Ruth Luketic, MPH, formerly an information specialist at the National Center on Health, Physical Activity, and Disability in Birmingham, Alabama.

The following hand exercises for MS can improve your ability to grip and pinch with your hands. Do the exercises slowly, and pay attention to how you feel. As your range of motion and strength improve, add resistance, as described below. By using weights or exercise bands, you'll increase your hand and forearm strength, Luketic says.

1. Finger Flexion and Extension

Bend the fingers of one hand toward the palm to make a fist. Then straighten your fingers and stretch out your hand; repeat with the other hand. Gradually work up to 10 to 15 repetitions of the exercise at a time.

Start with one set a day, then progress to two sets in a row, or do one set twice a day. If one hand is affected more than the other, you might do two sets on that hand and only one set on the stronger hand.

To focus more on strength, hold a rolled-up washcloth, sponge, Nerf ball, or ball of therapeutic putty (available from an occupational therapist) in your hand as you squeeze and release. These objects will provide some resistance. If you want to increase your grip strength, use a tennis ball or a small hand therapy exercise ball.

2. Finger Abduction and Adduction

Straighten the thumb and fingers of one hand. Spread the fingers apart and then squeeze them together; repeat with the other hand. Perform three to five repetitions to start; progress to 10 to 15 reps once and then twice a day. To add resistance, place a rubber band around your fingers when they're in the closed position (it should fit snugly), and then spread them apart, pressing against the band. You also can use a small rubber band on two or three fingers at a time.

3. Finger Pinch

Roll a washcloth or putty into a tube shape. Using your thumb and index finger, pinch along the tube from one end to the other; repeat with your other hand. To strengthen your palm, use your thumb, index finger, and third finger to pinch a washcloth or putty or Nerf ball; repeat with the other hand. Repeat either exercise three to five times with each hand, working up to 10 to 15 reps.

4. Rice Exercises

These are good exercises for rehabilitation and strengthening. Place a large bag (or two) of rice in a big bucket. Place your hands in the bucket and open and close them in these various positions:
  • Palms facing each other
  • Palms facing away from each other
  • Palms facing your body
  • Palms facing away from your body

You might also rotate your hands in a clockwise direction and then counterclockwise in the rice.

"You can also try this exercise with sand," Luketic says.

5. Movement Therapy, or 'Piano Hands'

Sit up tall in a chair, facing a table or desk. Place your hands, palms down, on the edge of the table (your forearms should be hanging off). Lift your fingers up and down, one at a time, as if you were playing the piano. Then move them up and down the imaginary keyboard. You might even do this to real music — play for 20 to 30 seconds of a tune to start.

“Gradually increase the time until you can play an entire song,” Luketic says.

6. Massage and Dexterity Exercises

Massage therapy can help with burning or prickling feelings or numbness in the hands. You also can try some hand physical therapy or hand occupational therapy, such as playing cards or video games or doing crafts that require dexterity, or try typing at your computer keyboard or organizing your desk or kitchen drawers. Include some stretching in your routine, as well.

Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by EVERYDAYHEALTH
Note: Materials may be edited for content and length

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