Squeeze, Cut, Twist: Increasing Hand Strength and Coordination

As an occupational therapist, I spend a lot of time working with hands of all ages and abilities.  I help my clients regain range of motion after an injury, recover strength after a stroke or improve coordination while writing. We often take our hands for granted, but imagine trying to do your daily activities without them! DevelopmentMother and daughter doing arts and crafts together of hand strength and coordination is important for writing and cutting while in school, but it is also necessary for basic dressing activities. Tying shoes, managing zippers or buttons, brushing teeth and opening containers are just a few examples.

Here are a few of my go-to activities to increase fine motor strength and coordination; they are adaptable for all ages!

1. Cut with scissors

Cut on a given line to address strength and coordination, cut snips into the side of paper or across in a thin strip for early learners, or cut various textures (cardboard, Play-Doh, fabric) to address strength.

2. Work with Play-Doh, clay or putty

Rolling, pinching and pulling works great for strengthening and is fun! Recipes for homemade dough are very easy to find and often use commonly found ingredients. Kneading bread or rolling out cookie dough are fun alternatives to Play-Doh.

3. Nuts and bolts

The twisting and bilateral hand use is great for strength and coordination, and bolts of varying size can modify the activity.

4. Fold paper

Origami patterns are easy to find and vary in difficulty. This requires coordination, strength and visual perception!

5. Legos or K’Nex

Pushing the pieces together and pulling them apart takes strength and coordination, and the difficulty can vary depending on the size of the pieces.

6. Stringing beads

From Fruit Loops to decorative beads, this can be fun and beneficial for all ages.

7. Color

Coloring books are fun for all ages! Place different textures underneath the paper for added resistance and sensory input.

8. Clothespins or tweezers

Pick up small objects or hang clothes; pinching the ends requires strength and coordination.

9. Hole punch

Punch holes in paper, or try card stock for increased resistance. Check out the scrapbook selection in a craft store for fun shapes.

10. Squirt guns

Have some fun with a water fight! Spray bottles work, too. Alternate your trigger finger to address each finger.

For an extra challenge, try using your non-dominant hand with these tasks. Don’t take your hands for granted!

Carrie Larson, MS, OTR/L

By Carrie Larson, MS, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist at Avera St. Mary's Hospital