“How can I relax my stiff, clenched hand after stroke?”
We hear this question a lot, and there’s a lot of confusion around what works and what doesn’t work. So we’re clearing it all up today.
Because unfortunately, many treatments for stiff hands and curled fingers after stroke only treat the symptoms.
In this article, you’ll learn why that is and you’ll also learn the permanent treatment for stiff hands after stroke.
Let’s get to it.
The Cause of Clenched Hands After Stroke
Spasticity is the main culprit of stiff hands after stroke.
On the surface, spasticity seems like a problem with your muscles. While that is partially true, the root cause of spasticity is brain-muscle miscommunication.
After stroke, your muscles get tense and tight because they cannot receive signals from your brain like they once did before stroke. So even though your brain is trying to tell your muscles to relax, your muscles can’t hear that command.
Therefore, the permanent solution to regaining hand movement after stroke should address that communication.
Now, let’s dig deeper.
Temporary Treatment for Clenched Hands and Curled Fingers After Stroke
Botox isn’t just for wrinkles
Getting Botox injections (or other locally administered drugs or medication) is a common treatment for spasticity, especially in the hands – but it only fixes the symptom.
These medications work to relax your muscles. They don’t address your brain-muscle communication.
So if you get Botox treatments, you will need to keep getting treatments when it wears off. Because since the root problem was not addressed, it will continue to persist each time the Botox wears off.
2. Hand Splints
Hand splints can help open your hand and reduce the spasticity. They work by propping your hand open on something sturdy.
While they do not help you regain movement in your hand, they are useful for opening your hand back up.
3. Passive Stretching
If you don’t have a hand splint, you can try using a basketball or other object to stretch your hand out on.
You can even use your leg to stretch your hand out on (although it’s not as “grippy”).
Just don’t stretch to the point of pain!
Botox and stretching are temporary treatments, though. If you want lasting results, then pay close attention to these next few parts.
Permanent Treatment for Clenched Hands
Neuroplasticity is how the brain rewires itself
To address the root problem, you need to fix your brain-muscle communication, and you can do this by rewiring the connections in your brain using neuroplasticity.
And the best way to engage neuroplasticity is through rehab exercise.
But not just any rehab exercise – it has to be very repetitive. The more you repeat your exercises, the stronger your brain-muscle communication becomes.
To permanently treat spasticity, you need to retrain your brain how to control your hand muscles through repetitive rehab exercise.
By performing hand therapy exercises over and over and over, you can fix the communication between your brain and your muscles.
Then, after plenty of repetitive practice, the muscles in your hand will slowly learn to open and relax – for good.
Bonus: Download our free Stroke Rehab Exercises ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)
Combine Botox with Exercise to Reduce Hand Spasticity
Some stroke survivors find that Botox helps motivate them to do their rehab exercises since it would be too painful to do otherwise. We think this is a great solution.
If you suffer from painfully clenched hands after stroke, you can try doing both treatments at once: use Botox to relax your muscles, and then use that relaxed freedom to do your rehab exercises.
Treating Really, Really Stiff Hands
Some stroke survivors have intense spasticity in their hand that has been left untreated for so long that they develop contractures. Contractures are painfully stiff muscles that are very hard to open.
In these cases, you can use hand splints to stretch out the affected muscles. And if you don’t have any splints around, then you can stretch out your hand on a basketball or table.
Once you are able to stretch out the muscles – it’s important not to stop. The only way to introduce movement back into the affected muscles is with rehab exercises.
Stretching is the first step, exercise is the second step towards regaining movement in your hand.
And if you can’t move your affected hand, then you can still do rehab exercises! You just have to start with passive exercises where you assist yourself. Passive exercises still help retrain the brain.
Then, once you regain enough movement, you can perform active exercises to continue improving your hand function.
3 Steps to Open a Clenched Hand
So, in summary, there are 3 steps that you need to open up tight, clenched hands after stroke:
- Use splints or other flat surfaces to stretch open your hand
- After opening up your hand, practice passive exercises to start retraining your brain
- After regaining some movement, practice active exercise to regain as much movement as possible
During your exercise, be sure to perform a high number of repetitions in each session so that you can heal as quickly as possible.
Follow all of these steps and you should be able to relax your clenched hand after stroke.