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Therapy Putty 101

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT May 21, 2021 0 Comments

Man holding therapy putty

Therapy putty is a great rehabilitation tool for recovering from finger, hand, and wrist injuries. It is used by both physical therapists and occupational therapists alike as a favorite for treating a wide range of injuries and conditions. It can be purchased for home use or you can even make your own. Today, we will dive into what therapy putty is used for, specific exercises you can start, and other practical tips. Keep reading to learn more about how to use therapy putty. 

What is Therapy Putty?

In the therapy world, therapy putty is used primarily for strengthening the fingers, hands and wrists. Additionally, it provides benefits like increased blood flow for healing, optimizing functional hand range of motion, improving fine motor skills, and even stress relief. It comes in a variety of colors that are associated with different resistance levels (typically extra soft, soft, medium, and firm). In general, you will start with a lower strength color and gradually progress as your hand strength improves.  

What is it made of?

Most therapy putty is made from nontoxic and odorless silicone. This makes it safe for almost everyone to use. The silicone in this product also helps it last longer without getting grainy or losing its innate elasticity. If you have skin allergies always check the ingredients before purchasing, although most options on the market are now latex-free there are still some therapy putty products containing latex.

How long does it last?

Your therapy putty has the potential to last months or even years with the right care. For the best results, always put your therapy putty back in it’s plastic container after each use. However, if you accidentally leave it out on occasion you can rest assured that it won’t be ruined. It can be left out or even washed and still retain its functionality for the long term. One purchase of therapy putty should last you for the entirety of your hand recovery and well beyond.

Does Therapy Putty Have a Scent?

It's not uncommon for someone to by hypersensitive to scents. Therapy putty is designed to have as minimum odor as possible, especially since it's a tool that you use with your hands. The silicone material is typically odorless and won't leave any residue on your hands.

Who Can Benefit from Using Therapy Putty?

Kid holding therapy putty

There are a variety of reasons someone may use therapy putty. Anyone suffering from the following issues, conditions, or injuries would benefit from consistent use of putty:

  • An acute hand, wrist or finger injury; such as a joint sprain, muscle strain, or even fracture (once healed and cleared by your doctor)
  • Weak grip strength
  • Stroke
  • Chronic hand pain from past injuries
  • Hand or wrist arthritis (osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis) 
  • Carpal tunnel or any other type of nerve injury
  • Recovery from hand or wrist surgery 
  • General hand or wrist pain 
  • Limited finger or wrist range of motion
  • Stiffness or weakness of the fingers or wrist
  • Decrease in dexterity
  • Circulatory issues of the hand
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Trouble concentrating or the need to constantly fidget; ADHD

Therapy Putty Exercises

There is a lot of versatility that the use of exercise putty can provide. You can use it for a large variety of finger, wrist, and hand exercises to strengthen, promote circulation, increase dexterity, and reduce pain. You can also focus on fine motor skills by burying objects in the putty like marbles or buttons to dig out as well. Always start with a lighter resistance and progress as tolerated.

Here are some of the top exercises for the hands and wrist with therapy putty.

Finger Scissors

This exercise works the finger adductor and abductor muscles, essential for everyday hand function such as gripping and pinching.

  • Grab a smaller piece of your putty (less than half) 
  • Roll the putty into a ball
  • Spread two of your fingers apart while keeping the finger joints in a straight line
  • Place the putty in between these two fingers and secure it in place
  • Squeeze the fingers together to deform the putty ball and hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Roll the putty back into a ball and repeat
  • Complete 10 repetitions between each of the three finger web spaces- you can choose to alternate or do all of them at once before moving to the next space
  • Do 2-3 sets total

Finger Pinch

Being able to pinch your fingers together without pain and good strength is another essential part of daily hand use.

  • Grab your therapy putty and roll it out into a long thin cylinder on the table 
  • Place your thumb and pointer finger around the putty
  • Pinch the pads of the thumb and finger together and hold for 1-2 seconds
  • Repeat- this time placing the thumb and middle finger on the putty
  • Continue until you have repeated this exercise on every finger
  • Repeat the entire cycle 10 times for 2-3 sets total

You can also focus exclusively on thumb strength with a thumb press. Roll a small piece of putty into a ball and place it under your thumb. Push the thumb flat down into the ball toward the knuckles of the other fingers to make a thumbprint.

Power Squeeze

This exercise is great for general hand grip strength, since being able to grip something with your entire palm is essential. Plus, it’s a great stress reliever too.

  • Roll your therapy putty into a large ball
  • Place it in the palm of your hand
  • Wrap your fingers around the putty while keeping the wrist in neutral
  • Squeeze the fingers tightly into a fist so that the putty comes out the sides of your hand
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds before re-rolling the ball and repeating
  • Complete 10 repetitions 2-3 times on each hand

Flat Pinch

This exercise is similar to the finger pinch but provides a more functional all-in-one approach for gripping and pinching. With this exercise, the two distal joints in the fingers remain straight.

  • Roll your putty into a ball
  • Place the putty between your thumb and all four flat fingers
  • Depending on where you weaknesses are- you can play with the position of the putty, placing it closer to the edge or center of your fingers
  • Pinch and hold while keeping the fingers and thumb flat
  • Hold for 1-2 seconds for up to 10 repetitions
  • Repeat for 2-3 sets

Full Finger Spread

This exercise works the extensor and abductor muscles of the fingers and wrist, important for providing balance and coordination in the hand.

  • Take your therapy putty and roll it into a long cylinder
  • Bring your thumb and hands together in the center of your hand
  • Wrap the putty cylinder in a circle around your fingers and thumb approximately mid-finger
  • Push out against the putty as you spread the fingers away from each other
  • Repeat 10 times on each hand for 2-3 sets

In addition to a full finger spread, you can also focus on the finger strength of two at a time; wrapping the putty around two fingers and pulling them away from each other. Repeat around each pair of fingers until you have worked them all. 

Finger Extension

This strengthening exercise focuses on one finger extensor at a time, allowing you to focus on any specific problem areas.

  • Roll the therapy putty into a long cylinder again
  • Place your hand flat on the table with the palm facing down and fingers spread
  • Put the putty around one of your fingers just above the second knuckle
  • Hold the putty in place on each side against the table with two fingers from your opposite hand
  • Bring the wrapped finger up toward the ceiling while keeping the palm flat on the table- pushing against the tension
  • Repeat 10 times on each finger as needed for 2-3 sets

How to Properly Store Therapy Putty

Therapy putty sealed

As mentioned in the earlier section about the longevity of your putty, how you store it is important for keeping the putty in it’s optimal state. For the best outcomes, simply continue to use the plastic container that your putty comes in. If the plastic container breaks or is lost, make sure you find a new airtight container for storing your putty. Then, keep the container in a neutral atmosphere with no extreme cold or hot temperatures.

How to Make Your Own Therapy Putty

If you don’t have therapy putty at home, you may also consider other options around your house like a stress ball, tennis ball, rolled hand towel, or rubber bands- depending on what exercises you want to focus on. While hand therapy putty is very affordable, you may also consider making your own at home too. There are a few different variations that you can find online to make your own that you can experiment with- essentially making a thicker form of silly putty. One of the most popular online recipes simply includes white glue, water, borax, and food coloring.

Therapy Putty Recipe from American Stroke Foundation

Ingredients:

    • 4-ounce bottle of Elmer’s school glue
    • 1/4 cup corn starch
    • 1/4 teaspoon borax
    • 1/4 cup very hot water
    • 2-5 drops food color (optional)
    • 1-3 drops of an essential oil (optional)

Steps:

    • Empty entire 4-ounce bottle of glue into the bowl.
    • Add cornstarch and stir thoroughly.
    • (Optional) Add the food coloring and/or essential oil and mix again.
    • In a separate bowl, mix very hot water and Borax until it is dissolved.
    • Add it to the glue mixture & stir again until it becomes more solid.
    • With the putty still in the bowl, knead it with your hands until it’s no longer sticky.
    • Remove all excess water from the putty and the bowl.
    • Store in an airtight container.

Start Using Therapy Putty

As you can see, therapy putty is a very versatile tool for the hand and wrist. Whether you have a new injury or are in the last stage of recovery, choosing the right therapy putty exercises can help you feel your absolute best. Proper strength, flexibility, and coordination of our hands is essential for daily function. Use of therapy putty can help you feel your absolute best.

If you are feeling unsure of where to start, a round of physical therapy or occupational therapy treatment can help you get on track. The guidance of a healthcare professional can always help in the recovery process. If your hand symptoms become severe or are putting a damper on your quality of life, it’s important to get medical advice promptly.

Sources:

https://www.yourbeautyblog.com/2016/08/how-to-make-theraputty.html

https://americanstroke.org/how-to-make-your-own-homemade-therapy-putty/

Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.



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