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9 Expert Hand Exercises for Stroke Patients of All Ability Levels

stroke patient touching thumb to index finger for hand exercise

These physical therapy hand exercises for stroke patients can help improve your fine motor skills. It’s important to participate in some form of hand therapy daily to see the best results.

The following hand exercises are organized from easiest (Level 1) to hardest (Level 3). Stroke patients that struggle with hand paralysis can start with Level 1. Others can use Level 1 as a warm up and progress to more complex exercises.

Let’s kick off these hand exercises for stroke recovery with an expert video!

Hand Exercises for Stroke Patients with OT Barbara

In this video, occupational therapist Barbara will guide you through various hand exercises:

When you practice your hand exercises, try to emphasize high repetition.

When you repeat each movement, you encourage the brain to build and strengthen neural connections that help make the movement easier in the future.

This process is known as neuroplasticity and it’s the key to regaining movement after stroke.

Level 1: Gentle Hand Exercises for Stroke Patients

If you are starting out with little hand movement or hand paralysis, then these exercises are a great place to start.

They can all be practiced passively by using your non-affected hand to assist your affected hand. With time and consistent practice, you can practice them actively by performing them on your own.

Here are some gentle hand exercises to try at home:

1. Palm Up and Down

occupational therapist with palm down on table
OT with palm up on table for hand therapy

For this therapeutic hand exercise, place your hand palm-down on a table. Then, use your non-affected hand to flip your palm up. Repeat back and forth. Palm up, palm down.

2. Wrist Bend Movement

therapist with hand extended in front of her
therapist gently bending her wrist backward

For the next exercise, let’s gently bring movement into the wrist.

While keeping your elbow on the table, use your non-affected hand to stretch your affected hand at the wrist. Stretch backward, then stretch forward. Perform this movement slowly, back and forth.

3. Wrist Side Movement

left hand palm-down on table with right hand on top
right hand gently pushing left hand sideways

This is the last level 1 hand exercise for stroke patients. It will help bring more movement into the wrist, in a different direction.

Place your affected hand on the table with your palm down. Then, use your non-affected hand to slide your hand to the left and then to the right. Repeat slowly back and forth.

If you are trying to overcome hand paralysis, try practicing these hand exercises daily with high repetition. Massed practice is the best way to rewire the brain and improve movement after a stroke.

Bonus: Download our free Stroke Rehab Exercises ebook. (Link will open a pop-up that will not interrupt your reading.)

Level 2: Moderate Hand Exercises for Stroke Patients

The following hand exercises can be helpful if you have moderate hand issues, like hand spasticity with some residual mobility.

Again, the key to effectively regaining movement in your hand is to practice these hand exercises regularly. Consistency is key to seeing results.

Here are more therapeutic hand exercises for stroke patients:

4. Rolling Movement

therapist holding water bottle in hand for exercise
therapist squeezing water bottle in hand

For this slightly advanced hand exercise, place a water bottle in your affected hand. Keep your hand and fingers relaxed.

Then, curl your fingers and grasp the water bottle in your hand. Then release back down. Repeat by continuing to open and close your fingers.

This hand exercise will be difficult for many stroke patients with limited mobility, so just try your best.

5. Wrist Curl

occupational therapist showing hand exercise
therapist holding water bottle in hand like a dumbbell

This exercise is like a bicep curl — but for your wrist.

Hold the water bottle in your affected hand and use your non-affected hand to support your arm. Allow your wrist to stretch down, and then curl your wrist up. Repeat back and forth.

6. Grip and Release

physical therapist showing hand exercise for stroke patients
therapist moving pen across table for hand exercise
final position for hand exercise for stroke patients

This is the last hand exercise for level 1.

Start with a pen on one side of the table. Then grip it as best you can with your affected fingers. Again, this will be difficult for many stroke patients, but just try your best.

Then, slide the pen across the table, and release. Focus on gripping the pen gently. To emphasize the therapeutic quality of this exercise, use as little force as necessary to move the pen.

Repeat by moving the pen back across the table.

Level 3: Challenging Hand Exercises for Stroke Patients

The following hand exercises are difficult. They are intended for stroke patients that have considerable movement and dexterity already, and want to keep improving.

If you can’t do these exercises, try not to get frustrated. Your fine motor skills will slowly improve as you practice the previous exercises. These can be used as a goal to get to!

Here are some challenging hand exercises for stroke recovery:

7. Pen Spin

therapist spinning a pen on a table
therapist showing hand exercises for stroke patients

For this advanced hand exercise, place the pen on the table and use your thumb and fingers to spin it. Try not to use your shoulder during this movement. Focus on isolating your thumb and fingers.

If you can, aim for speed during this exercise. Spin the pen quickly for 15 seconds.

8. Coin Drop

therapist holding quarters in her palm
therapist pinching a quarter between thumb and index finger
therapist placing a quarter down on the table for hand therapy

This advanced hand exercise is comprised of 3 major movements. Start by placing 8 quarters in a row in the palm of your affected hand.

Then, use your thumb to slide one quarter down into your index finger and thumb and pinch it. Then, place the quarter down onto the table while keeping the other quarters in your hand using your other fingers.

This is a complex hand exercise because it requires coordination of all 5 fingers. After you finish placing them down individually, reverse the exercise to pick them back up.

9. Finger Curl

occupational therapist touching thumb to index fingertip for hand exercise
therapist touching thumb to ring finger for advanced hand exercises

For this last hand exercise, try to touch each fingertip to your thumb. Pinch and release starting with your index finger, moving to your middle finger, then ring finger, and finally your pinky.

This is the same movement as MusicGlove hand therapy, which is a rehab tool that helps you exercise will playing along to a musical game. It’s clinically proven to help improve hand function in stroke patients — in as little as 2 weeks.

And that’s a wrap! We hope you find these hand exercises helpful during your recovery.

Bonus! Get a Free Rehab Exercise Ebook (14 page PDF)

Get our free ebook filled with 14 pages of rehab exercises featuring photos of licensed therapists. Sign up below to get your copy!

When you sign up, you’ll also receive our popular Monday newsletter that contains 5 articles on stroke recovery.

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See how Susan is recovering from post-stroke paralysis

“I had a stroke five years ago causing paralysis on my left side which remains today.

I recently began using FitMi.

At first it was difficult for me to be successful with a few of the exercises but the more I use it, the better my scores become.

I have recently had some movement in my left arm that I did not have before.

I don’t know if I can directly relate this to the use of the FitMi but I am not having occupational therapy so I conclude that it must be benefiting me.

The therapy modality motivates me to use it daily and challenges me to compete against my earlier scores.

I heartily recommend it!-Susan, stroke survivor

FitMi is our best-selling home therapy tool because it helps patients of all ability levels.

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