Handy arthritis exercises

Exercise can take Herculean effort for many of us, but for those who suffer from arthritis, the thought of purposeful exercise can be especially discouraging.

Yet experts agree that for those who suffer pain, stiffness and swelling in joints and connective tissue, exercise is especially important to maintain flexibility and strength of supporting muscles, tendons and ligaments.

As with any exercise plan, it is important to check with your doctor before you begin, as some forms of exercise may not be appropriate for your condition.

Below are some movements to keep hands and fingers strong and flexible and preserve range of motion. They can be done daily or, ideally, several times a day. Before you start, you may want to wrap your hands in a warm towel or washcloth or soak them in warm water for a few minutes, which will increase the flow of oxygen, making them more limber. Know your limits. These exercises should not cause pain. Start with five repetitions and increase as you improve.

Finger flex

1. Start by relaxing your hand, with fingers straight and close together.

2. Bend the end and middle joints of your fingers, keeping wrist and knuckles straight.

3. Moving slowly and smoothly, return your hand to the starting position.

4. Repeat with your other hand. If you can, perform multiple repetitions of this exercise on each hand.

Fist flex

1. Start with your fingers straight and spread apart.

2. Make a loose, gentle fist, wrapping your thumb around the outside of your fingers.

3. Take care not to squeeze fingers together too tightly.

4. Moving slowly and smoothly, return to the starting position. Repeat with both hands.

Hand stretch

1. Gently but firmly, spread your fingers apart as wide as you can and hold that position.

2. Slowly relax fingers and bring them together.

3. Return to the wide-open position. Repeat with each hand, gradually increasing number of repetitions.

Fingertip touch

1. Straighten your fingers and thumb.

2. Bend thumb across your palm, touching tip of your thumb to pad of your hand just below pinky finger. If you can't make your thumb touch, just stretch as far as you can.

3. Return your thumb to its starting position.

4. Moving slowly and smoothly, form the letter "O" as you touch index finger to thumb, then straighten fingers.

5. Touch your middle finger to thumb and straighten.

6. Follow with your ring and pinky fingers. Repeat exercises with other hand.

Finger crawl

1. Rest your hand on a flat surface with palm facing down and fingers spread slightly. Moving one finger at a time, slowly walk fingers toward thumb.

2. Start by lifting and moving your index finger toward your thumb.

3. Follow by lifting and moving your middle finger toward your thumb.

4. Continue by moving your ring finger and then pinky finger toward your thumb. Do not allow wrist or thumb to move while doing this exercise. Repeat with other hand.

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