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OT Tip of the Month- Hand Strength and Finger Dexterity

There are over 25 muscles in our forearm and hand. The muscles of our forearm control our elbow, wrist and finger movements. The smaller muscles of our hand control the more refined movements of the thumb and fingers. Some children may appear to have strong hands if they are able to squeeze an object very hard, however this is not necessarily the case. The majority of our squeezing power actually comes from the forearm muscles. So when we look at hand strength, we also have to consider the muscles of the hand. In babies, these hand muscles are not fully developed. They are able to grip and squeeze with all fingers together before they are able to control individual fingers. As infants develop, their ability to control their thumb and individual fingers increases.

Why is this important?

If muscles of the forearm and hand are slow to develop, it may result in weakness and decreased coordination. The larger muscles of the forearm may overcompensate for weaker hand muscles and as a result, children will find more awkward ways to hold, pinch and grip objects. Children may have difficulty with:

  • Picking up small items (coins, beads, cheerios, etc.) using the pads/tips of the index finger and thumb
  • Holding a writing tool with 3 or 4 finger tip pinch
  • Holding and using eating utensils effectively
  • Fastening buttons, zippers, snaps
  • Using scissors
  • In-hand manipulation (i.e. transferring coins within the palm to the fingertips and vice versa)

What can we do?

  • Pushing, pulling and moulding play-doh
  • Using tongs, clothespins and/or tweezers to pick up small objects (i.e. cotton balls, pompoms, etc.)
  • Interlocking construction toys (i.e. Lego, Diplo, pop-beads, etc.)
  • Writing and drawing on a slanted or vertical surface (i.e. easel, wall, etc.)
  • Water play with squirt bottles
  • Wringing out sponges
  • Ripping paper
  • Popping bubble wrap
  • Crafts that require squeeze bottles (i.e. glue, puff paint, glitter glue, etc.)
  • Push toothpicks into Styrofoam to make pictures
  • Dress-up dolls

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