Why Hand Strength Matters More Than You May Think

Grip Strength and Occupational Therapy

Hand Strength
Getty Images

If you visit an occupational therapist (OT) or physical therapist for any condition resulting in weakness, the evaluation will likely include a test of your hand strength, aka grip strength. As one would guess, hand strength indicates overall muscle health of the hand and forearm. Additionally, grip strength points to a person’s comprehensive well-being.

How Hand Strength Is Tested

To test hand strength, occupational therapists use a gadget called a dynamometer.

The origin of the word dynamometer means “measurement of power.” (This should be your first hint that grip strength is about more than discrete muscles.)

If your occupational therapist follows the recommendations for grip strength testing from The American Society of Hand Therapists, she will have you sit with your elbow against your side and bent at 90 degrees, so your forearm and hand are straight out from your body. From there, you will squeeze the dynamometer with all your might. Typically this is done three times using your right hand and three times using the left, with an average score being calculated for the right and left hand.

Your OT will compare your grip strength to a chart that lists the normal range for someone of your gender and age. For example, as a female in my late 20s the normal range for my grip strength would be 28.8 to 38.8 kgs.

Why Grip Strength Is a Common Therapy Assessment

Grip strength measurements are sensitive enough to detect small changes in your hand strength, which make them a reliable way to track your progress during therapy.

The test is also simple enough that it can be done each session.

Occupational therapists are interested in how improving your grip strength can impact your day-to-day life. Could improving your hand strength help you accomplish tasks such as lifting and holding groceries, opening jars, turning doorknobs, weeding the garden, mowing the lawn, etc.?

Grip Strength as an Indicator of Overall Health

A large international study from April 2015 indicates that grip strength is also a reliable predictor of whether you are at risk for a heart attack or stroke. The researchers calculated that each 11-pound decrease in grip strength is associated with a 17 percent increased risk of cardiovascular death, a 7 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 9 percent increased risk of stroke. Interestingly enough, measuring your grip strength was a better predictor of cardiovascular death than even systolic blood pressure. Past research has also linked hand strength to nutritional status, bone mass, and obesity.

What Grip Strength Does Not Tell Us

It is important to remember that grip strength is associated with overall health; poor grip strength does not directly cause poor health. Think of grip strength as a symptom. For example, having weak hands does not cause poor nutrition, lack of access to a healthy diet does. Grip strength is a symptom of not eating well.

As of now, we do not know if increasing your grip strength would lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. But, these associations are a compelling reason to participate in the resistance exercise recommended by your occupational therapist.

The exercises may be important for not only our strengthening your hand, but also improving your overall health.


Leong, Darryl P et al. Prognostic Value of Grip Strength: Findings From the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) Study. The Lancet, 2015, 266-273.

Gonzales, Norman, Pirlich, Schulzke, Stobaus, Hand Grip Strength: Outcome Predictor and Marker of Nutritional Status. Clinical Nutrition. Edinburgh, Scotland. 2010, 42.