Physical Therapy Exercise Program after a Colles Fracture

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Physical Therapy Exercises after a Colles Fracture

Wrist pain while typing on a computer.
You may benefit from PT exercises after wrist surgery or a Colles fracture. Getty Images

If you have ever fallen on an outstretched hand, also known as a FOOSH injury, then perhaps you have suffered a Colles' fracture.  A Colles' fracture is a fracture of the wrist bones where the bones are displaced.  A Colles' fracture typically requires surgery to reduce, and you may have a long period of immobilization in a cast or splint after the injury.

Physical therapy for a Colles' fracture involves improving wrist and arm range of motion and strength in order to maximize functional mobility in your arm.  Your physical therapist will perform specific treatments to help you regain normal mobility in your arm and wrist.

One important component of your Colles' fracture rehab is the home exercise program - those exercises that you perform independently at home to help augment your physical therapy treatments.

Here is a step-by-step exercise program that you may need to do during your physical therapy after a Colles' fracture.  Before starting this, or any other exercise program, be sure to check in with your doctor to ensure that it is safe for you to do.

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Wrist Range of Motion

After wearing a cast or a splint on your wrist while your Colles' fracture was healing, you may have noticed that the muscles and joints around your wrist feel tight.  This is normal, and your first exercises after removal of your cast should be geared towards regaining wrist range of motion.

To start regaining wrist range of motion, hold your arm out in front of you, and then slowly bend your hand and fingers up as if you were signaling for someone to "stop."  Grab your hand with your non-injured hand, and gently add overpressure by pulling your hand and fingers back.  Hold the position for 5 seconds, and then relax.  Repeat the stretch for 5 repetitions.

Next, flex your wrist down while holding your arm in front of you.  Gently add overpressure by grasping your hand and bending it further into flexion.  Hold this position for 5 seconds, and repeat it 5 times.

Your physical therapist may also prescribe exercises to work on turning your hand over, as if you were pouring a pitcher of water or carrying a bowl of soup.  These advanced wrist stretches can be started later; your initial focus should be on gaining wrist flexion and extension.

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Handgrip Exercises

Picture of the towel handgrip exercise.
The towel handgrip exercise is simple to do. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

Once your doctor removes your cast after your Colles' fracture has healed, you may notice that your ability to grip things is diminished.  Your PT may prescribe specific exercises to help improve your handgrip strength.

Exercises to improve hand grip may include:

When performing gripping exercises, be sure to hold each repetition for a few seconds, and grip with slow, deliberate motions.  Perform each exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.

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Putty Exercises for the Thumb, and Fingers

Image of elderly woman receiving hand physical therapy with putty.
Your physical therapist can teach you hand and finger exercises that you can do with therapy putty. Pamela Moore/Getty Images

To help improve the strength of your fingers after a Colles' fracture, your physical therapist may prescribe putty exercises to perform.  Your PT may give you some putty, or you can buy some Silly Putty, or make your own at home.

Squeeze the putty between your thumb and fingers, and then squeeze it between two individual fingers.  You can also roll the putty into a long tube, shape it into a ring, and place the ring around your fingers to work on extending your fingers against resistance.

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Wrist and Forearm Strengthening Exercises after Colles' Fracture

A small weight can be used to improve wrist strength.
Hold a small dumbbell and turn your wrist over to improve wrist strength after a Colles' fracture. Brett Sears, PT, 2013

After a Colles' fracture, the muscles around your wrist and forearm may be weak due to the injury and the period of time your wrist was immobilized.  Your physical therapist may prescribe wrist strengthening exercises with a dumbbell to help improve your strength.

Remember to start slow with a light weight.  Once you can perform 15 to 20 pounds of a particular wrist strengthening exercise, you can progress to a heavier weight.  Check in with your PT to ensure that you are using the proper resistance for your specific condition.

A Colles' fracture can be a painful injury that causes significant functional limitations in your hand and arm.  By working hard in physical therapy and by being diligent with your exercises, you can be sure to quickly and safely get back to your maximum potential.

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