Arm and Hand Strengthening Exercises for Wheelchair Users

Arm and Hand Strengthening Exercises for Wheelchair Users

We have put together a list of excellent arm strengthening exercises and activities at home which will help to strengthen your child’s shoulders, arms, hands and fingers. These exercises work best for those who have increased tone in their arms.

Good shoulder, elbow, wrist hand and finger strength helps us to carry out our hand and fine motor activities for day-to-day life.

If your child has some difficulties with using their hands, then strengthening their shoulders, arms and hands may help them with their hand function.

Lots of ideas for hand strengthening and shoulder stability
  • Before trying these exercises, take a minute to prepare your child. If they have any tightness or increased tone in their upper limbs, stretch out their fingers, hands, elbows and shoulders before the activity so they have as much movement as possible to play.

  • To wake up their muscles, try squeezing their hands, tips of their fingers and their arms. You could also use a brush along their skin, or a vibrating massager. All of these can help to make your child more aware of their fingers/ hand/ arm which can then help them be more accurate and learn more effectively as well as being able to feel and enjoy the activity better.

  • Find the level for your child in each activity. Make sure your child is successful in their exercise as this will motivate them to continue. As you push them to get to the next level, they should be able to manage a few of their attempts to keep motivated-even if they are not successful at all of them.

  • Remember to praise the effort rather than the result to motivate them to keep putting in effort and not be put off if they don’t succeed.

Shoulder and elbow strengthening exercises and activities

  1. Help your child onto a roll or a wedge with their hands on the ground and their shoulders over their hands.  Use cushions or your leg if you don’t have a roll or wedge at home. Try to encourage them to lift their head which will in turn make them push through their hands. Books or the TV are great for this activity.

  2. To progress this, encourage play in this position so they lift 1 hand. This could be helping to turn a page of a book or playing with balls etc.

  3. If they manage this, then move them further forward over the roll or wedge (or cushions) so that more of their weight comes over their hands. Try lifting a hand again for play.

  1. Start just trying to maintain a hands and knees position with your child. It may be easier to start with the child sitting back on their heels and just balancing through their arms.

  2. As they get stronger, move their bodies forward until their shoulders are over their hands and their hips are over their knees. While they learn to hold this position, watching activities are the best – watching a tablet, reading a book etc so they don’t have to move their arms.

For those trying to strengthen their arms, putting weight through while moving (i.e. crawling and bunny hopping) is the best way to get strong.

  1. Once children can hold themselves in a hands and knees position, encourage them to reach 1 hand forward for a toy.

  2. As they move to reach forward, bring their weight over that arms so they are putting weight through that arm.

  3. Next bring the legs forward to keep knees under hips and let them move the other hand.

  4. Once they are more fluent with their hands, let them take over bringing their legs forward until they can do it for themselves.

  5. Crawling with reciprocal legs (one leg and then the other) is much better for their legs. Hold 1 leg back so they only move 1 leg at a time. This may not work and they may resort to bunny hopping (crawling with 2 legs together).

  6. Either way, exercises to stretch out their hips (standing or in a standing frame) can help reduce any tightness in their hips which they can get from crawling.

  7. If  your child has very tight hips, consult your physio before trying crawling.

  1. On their hands and knees – reach 1 arm straight out in front of them in the air – you can challenge them to balance a beanbag or soft toy on the back of their hand to keep it up. Try and hold for 20 seconds.

  2. Try the other side.

  3. Now try and lift 1 leg off the floor behind them and hold this for a few seconds.

  4. Repeat on the other side. 

Wheelbarrow is a very difficult task so make sure you start at the stage in the list below that your child can manage without dropping their tummy or arching their backs. Each progression will be hard so take your time to get down the list – it is better to do the exercise well rather than just do them all but badly.

  1. Hold your child by their hips with their legs straddling you and their hands on the floor. Move around the floor picking up objects for as far as you can go.

  2. Move your hands down to your child’s knees and walk around the room – picking up objects or playing a matching game or skittles.

  3. If you can, hold your child by their ankles. Make sure they keep their bottom in the air and don’t hang their tummy’s down. Again find a game to make this more entertaining.

  4. As your child gets stronger you could try to get from one end of the house to the other – even trying going up any steps or the stairs.

  5. You could also make an obstacle course to go around or over.

  1. Any climbing using hands will be good for hand and shoulder strength and stability. This includes climbing on furniture or up the stairs. The more weight which goes through the arms, the better.

  2. The most challenging activity is hanging on a bar or going along monkey bars. Try getting your child to hang off a door or your hands if you don’t have access to a bar to hang from.

7 Wrist, hand and finger strengthening exercises and activities

  1. See this ‘Our Home’ video on hand strengthening with playdough – kneading, pulling apart, squashing or wringing the playdough can all be great hand strengthening exercises.

  2. For finger strengthening, try hiding objects in the dough and your child has to manipulate it to get the toy. 

  1. Squeezing bottles is a lovely way to strengthen fingers. Fill an empty toothpaste tube with liquid or yogurt or a bottle with a spout with any liquid and have fun squeezing the liquid out.

  2. Put soft salt/playdough in a plastic bag and make a small hole – squeezing it out can make a lovely snake of dough.

  3. Squeeze stress balls – Encourage your child to squeeze this or just poke into it with their fingers. See our ‘Our Home’ video for an easy way to make a stress ball at home.

  1. Cut a piece of hard card into a head shape. Your child can use the clothes pegs to make hair.

  2. Wrap string around some chair legs and peg pegs to the string for your child to remove.

  3. Or do a scavenger hunt. Clip pegs around the house on bits of material, paper, drawer handles etc. The child can then go around the house or the room (depending on their mobility) to find the pegs and take them off. See this ‘Our Home’ video which shows how to use a tablet to set up a scavenger hunt.

  1. Using home implements can be brilliant for strengthening. For the whole hand use your kitchen or BBQ tongs and get your child to try to pick up bigger items such as socks, soft toys, small cushions. 

  2. You could set this up as a scavenger hunt too. Take photos of objects they need to pick up with their tongs from around the house and bring back to the start. If your child can’t wheel themselves, give them options of ‘right, left and forward’ in their communication aid or by sticking paper on their trays so they can tell you where to go to find the item. 

  3. For finger strengthening, use tweezers instead of tongs and pick up small items such as cotton wool. See how quickly they can pick up 10 items and put them in a bowl the other side of the room.

  1. Use any spare nuts and bolts (and washers) you have around the house to make shapes with card.

  2. Just draw the shape of a dinosaur, snake, tree etc. cut slits or small holes in the card and your child can amuse themselves screwing the nuts and bolts together to make great pieces of 3D art.

Paper scrunching is an easy and fun way for hand and shoulder strengthening

  1. Use a large piece of newspaper and ask your child to scrunch it into the smallest ball they can with 2 hands.

  2. Now ask them to do it with 1 hand. The manipulation needed for this will strengthen all the small intricate muscles of the hands.

  1. Using scissors is a great way to strengthen hands. You can start by cutting dough as this teaches the right way to cut. Make a snake out of dough and ask then to cut it into pieces.

  2. Move on to cutting straight lines on card and/ or paper. As their skills develop you can be inventive with your cutting and draw interesting shapes for them to cut.

  3. See this ‘Our Home’ video for instructions on how to make a Minecraft man chain with straight line cutting.

Here are a selection of suitable videos

Salt Dough

Make your Own Stress Balls

Using Scissors

Scavenger Hunt

Thank you for visiting Gympanzees’ website. All information provided by Gympanzees is of general nature and for educational / entertainment purposes. It is up to you as the parent or family member to judge what is appropriate and safe for your child. No information provided by Gympanzees should replace any professional information and advice that you have been given and speak to your therapist or doctor if you are unsure of anything. Should you use any of the information provided by Gympanzees, you do so at your own risk and hold Gympanzees harmless from any and all losses, liabilities, injuries or damages resulting from any and all claims.

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