Exercises for Regaining Fine Motor Control after Neuropathy

What can you do when neuropathy affects your fine motor control?

If you’ve been reading our previous articles about neuropathy (and CIPN in particular), you know what it is and why it’s a problem, along with some basic treatments.  In this article, we want to focus on regaining fine motor control in the hands.

Neuropathy can make many simple daily tasks frustrating and difficult—things like buttoning clothes, cooking, holding a pen or a toothbrush, using keys or small tools, and typing.  Needless to say this can have a big impact on your life!

But there is hope.  There are ways to address root causes (see the previous article and some to come in the future), but there are also ways to retrain the nervous and muscular systems.

What might a physical therapist do to help you recover fine motor skills?

Of course, this depends on your specific type of neuropathy and its effect on your hand function, but some exercises that are likely to be prescribed by a PT include these:

  • Finger taps – tapping each finger in turn against the thumb; this trains sensory nerves and motor nerves at the same time.
  • Ball squeeze – uses a therapy ball (or tennis ball, “stress ball”, or something similar) to strengthen the fingers and work the wrist.
  • Use of “theraputty” to aid in finger strengthening 
  • Rubber band finger stretches – retrains the extensor muscles on the back of the hand and rebuilds control.

What are some at-home exercises and activities that can help you regain fine motor control? 

Again, this is dependent on the specifics of your situation, but these exercises can help with fine motor skills in many cases:

  • Play the piano.  Begin with some specific finger-strengthening exercises such as these.
  • Play together with a child: dollhouse, Chinese checkers, “marble contraption” games, jacks, tinker toys, dice, Scrabble, dominoes, cards, or any other activity with lots of small “manipulables.”  Melissa & Doug have a number of classic games; “Suspend” would be a challenging one, but good practice in certain situations.  Or just use beans, coins, buttons, paper-clips, etc.  Aim for lots of repetition.
  • Do crafts: detailed coloring books, sewing/knitting/leatherwork, clay, models, painting (even finger-painting), wreath making, calligraphy, etc. With any “close work” like this, be careful of your posture and take frequent stretch breaks.  A long list of other ideas can be found here.

Using patterns to build habits

Are you noticing the pattern?  Most of these activities are the same things you did originally to develop your fine motor skills when you were young. Take those same actions and change up the content or subject matter to something that interests you (landscapes instead of fire trucks; word art instead of basic handwriting; sonatas instead of “Chopsticks”; Scrabble instead of Chutes & Ladders—whatever works for you).

Also, don’t look for the “ideal” exercises to regain movement or sensation fastest.  Those will probably be hard and boring!  Look for ways to build new movement patterns and creative activities into your life as a whole: these may be “less efficient” in the short-term, but are probably a lot more enriching, holistic, and sustainable in the long-term.

But for short-term, intensive recovery, including specialized equipment and coaching, please come talk to us here at ORW.  We will assess your overall condition and the specifics of your neuropathy, and will build you a tailored plan.  Click here to schedule an appointment.