Exercises You Can Do with Therapy Putty

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Putty Hand Strengthening Exercises

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

Exercise putty is a great tool that you can use to help build strength and dexterity in your hands, fingers, and thumbs.  The putty comes in various colors which represent a different amount of resistance.

Therapy putty is useful for a variety of different diagnoses, including:

Therapy putty can also be used to help maintain hand strength during periods of immobilization in a shoulder sling after a shoulder or elbow injury or surgery. 

There are many different ways to improve hand and finger strength. You can use a towel to improve hand grip, or specialized exercise tools like a Digi-Flex may be used to help strengthen your hand, fingers, or thumb.

If you are experiencing hand or finger weakness, visit your physical therapist to learn exercises you can do for your specific condition.  Your PT may use therapy putty to help improve your strength, and he or she may have you use therapy putty as part of your home exercise program.

This step by step exercise program can give you some ideas of putty exercises to do to help improve hand strength and mobility.  Check in with your doctor before starting this, or any other, exercise program.

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Putty Hand Grip

Photo of therapy putty gripping.
Use therapy putty to improve hand grip strength. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

The putty hand grip is a simple exercise to do to help improve overall grip strength in your hand.  To perform the exercise, ball up your putty and hold it in your hand.  Squeeze the putty and hold the tension for 3 to 5 seconds.  Release the tension and relax for a few seconds.  Then, repeat the gripping for 10 to 15 repetitions.

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Putty Roll Out

Photo of therapy putty roll.
Roll out the therapy putty to gently massage your palm. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

To gently massage the palm of your hand and practice opening up your fingers and hand fully, perform the putty roll out.  This exercise is great for massaging scar tissue after carpal tunnel surgery.

To perform the exercise, place your therapy putty on a flat surface and then slowly press into it with an open hand.  Roll the palm of your hand over the putty to make a long putty tube.  Ball the putty up again, and then repeat the rolling process 5 to 10 times.

On the final repetition, leave the putty rolled out in a hot dog shape, and proceed to the next exercise: the donut with finger extension. 

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Putty Donut Shaping and Finger Extension

Photo of finger extension with therapy putty.
Make a donut with your putty, then use it to strengthen your finger extensors. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

To improve the strength of the muscles that help open up your hand and extend your fingers, perform the donut shaping and finger extension exercise.  To do this, shape your rolled out therapy putty into a circle, like a donut.  Then place your fingers and thumb in the hole and slowly open up your hand.

Repeat the donut shaping and finger extension for 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the next exercise.

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Putty Finger Abduction

Image of therapy putty finger exercises.
Use your putty to perform finger abduction. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

You can use your therapy putty to improve your finger's ability to open up and separate.  To do so, simply make a small donut shape with the therapy putty, and then place two fingers in the hole.  Slowly separate your fingers against the resistance of the putty.

When your fingers are separated, ball up the putty, roll it out, and make a new donut shape.  Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 repetitions.

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Putty Finger Adduction

Image of therapy putty finger adduction.
Squeeze your putty between your fingers to improve finger adduction strength. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

To improve the strength of the small muscles that help pull your fingers together, perform the putty finger adduction exercise.  To do this, make a small ball with your therapy putty, and then squeeze the ball between your fingers.  Hold the tension for a few seconds, and then release.

Repeat the exercise 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the next exercise. 

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Putty Thumb Grip

Image of therapy putty thumb gripping.
Use your therapy putty to improve thumb grip strength. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

You can improve your thumb gripping function by performing the putty thumb grip exercise.  To do this, make a small ball with your therapy putty, and then squeeze it between your thumb and the side of your fingers.  Pretend you are gripping a key in between your thumb and fingers.

Hold tension for a few seconds, and then release.  Repeat the squeezing for 10 to 15 repetitions, and then move on to the final exercise.

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Finger Tip Pinch with Putty

Image of finger tip pinch exercise with putty.
Pinch the therapy putty between your finger tips to strengthen your tip-to-tip grip. Brett Sears, PT, 2015

 To improve your finger's ability to grip things, you can perform the finger tip pinch grip with your therapy putty.  To do so, make a small ball with the putty, and then grip it between your fingers and thumb.  Be sure to press into the putty with your finger tips.

Use your fingers to squeeze the putty for 10 to 15 repetitions.

You should perform the putty exercises 3 or 4 times per week to improve hand and finger strength and to improve overall hand function.  Be sure to stop an exercise and check with your doctor or PT if it causes pain.

Therapy putty is a low cost, versatile exercise tool to help you improve your overall hand strength and function.  By working on the exercises in this step-by-step program, you can be sure to maintain appropriate hand function to perform everyday tasks with ease.

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