Wrist Range of Motion Exercises

hand placing pipe cleaners into the holes of a colander. Text reads "wrist range of motion exercises"

This colander and toothpicks activity is a powerful wrist extension fine motor task. You can use this activity idea as range of motion exercises for wrist. You’ve probably seen (or tried) a colander and pipe cleaner activity. We’ve also used pipe cleaners and a cardboard box to achieve the same effect.

Let’s explore what’s happening with this activity…You’ll also want to check out our blog post on finger strength exercises, which includes fun fine motor strengthening activities.

Colander and Toothpicks Activity

You might have seen a recent post here on the blog that shared the importance of an extended wrist in fine motor activities.  If you check out that post, you’ll see why it’s important for kids to position their wrist in a functional position.  
 
Today, I’m adding a simple fine motor activity for improving an extended wrist. This is a low-prep busy bag type of activity that kids can play with at home or at the OT clinic while building fine motor skills needed for tasks like handwriting, scissor use, clothing management, tool use (like spoons, knives, and forks), and so much more.

Super easy fine motor activity for improving an extended wrist and tripod grasp for kids, using household items like a colander and toothpicks.
 

 

 
This post contains affiliate links.
 
For this activity, you’ll need a (Amazon affiliate link) colander.  We used a plastic one that is as bright as it is perfect for rinsing garden lettuce.  I love that this one has one curved handle that makes using it for fine motor activities like this one perfect for developing bilateral coordination.  Kids can hold onto the curved handle while doing this easy fine motor activity.
 
We also used summer themed party toothpicks similar to these (affiliate links) that we’ve had in our party supplies forever.  I’m really not even sure where these toothpicks came from, but it has to be true that everyone needs a pineapple party toothpick in their life, right??
 

Fine Motor Toothpick Activity

I showed my preschooler and toddler how to poke the toothpicks into the overturned colander.  As easy as that, our activity was on it’s way.
 
Super simple activities make moms and kids happy.
 
When my kiddos were stabbing the colander with summer-themed toothpicks, I was watching the positioning of their wrist and hand.  (Observation skills are ingrained in an Occupational Therapist…it might be something about those long OT school lab sessions and years of clinicals…)
 
Poking the toothpicks into the holes of the overturned colander allows the wrist to be in an extended position while the fingers are positioned in a tripod or pincer grasp as they hold the toothpick.  Be sure to position the colander in an effective place.  If the child is on the floor they may ulnarly deviate (bend the wrist toward their pinkie finger) or flex the wrist.  
 
Super easy fine motor activity for improving an extended wrist and tripod grasp for kids, using household items like a colander and toothpicks.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

More range of motion exercises for wrist

Looking for more wrist extension activities? Try these: 

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

Wrist range of motion

The activities described in this blog post are fun ways to support wrist range of motion through play.

Typical range of motion of the wrist is as follows:

  • Wrist Flexion: 0-90 degrees
  • Wrist Extension: 0-70 degrees
  • Radial Abduction: 0-20 degrees
  • Ulnar Abduction: 0-30 degrees

These wrist range of motion degrees are rounded to the nearest numbers and some sources may include slight variances in ROM which is considered the average normal motion.

We made this image to show hand and wrist range of motion. These movement ranges are a general depiction. SO when we measure a client or a patient, there can actually be a range of normal movement. One person might have 80 degrees of wrist flexion and another might have 90 degrees of wrist flexion. Both are within the normal range. What matters is the function. If the client can perform their daily tasks and have 70 degrees of wrist flexion because of various reasons, that’s completely normal, too!

All of this is to say that the range of motion measurements can vary slightly. This goes for the wrist, forearm, fingers, and thumb.

hand and wrist range of motion

Wrist Range of Motion Exercises

These Range of Motion Exercises for the Wrist are functional but also move the wrist through the full range of motion. We tried to include both strictly ROM exercises for wrist movements, but also functional wrist movements too.

wrist ROM exercises

For example, using the colander and toothpick activity (or a colander and pipe cleaner activity), you can set out a certain number of toothpicks or pipe cleaners. Ask the individual to place that number into the holes of the colander while moving the wrist through wrist extension to position the item into the colander holes.

Wrist ROM exercises include these for each motion of the wrist:

  1. Wrist Flexion- Holding objects and bending the wrist forward are great ROM exercises for wrist flexion.
    • Hold your forearm out with your palm facing down.
    • Use your opposite hand to gently push your hand and fingers downward. Hold for a few seconds and release.
    • Hold a hammer or something heavy and let the weight of the hammer pull the wrist into full flexion.
  2. Wrist Extension- Wrist extension ROM exercises can include holding objects like a stress ball and pulling the wrist back into an extended position.
    • Hold your forearm out with your palm facing up.
    • Use your opposite hand to gently push your hand and fingers upward.
    • Hold for a few seconds and release.
    • Use a hammer to pull the wrist into extension by flipping the forearm over into a supinated position on a table.
  3. Wrist Supination- Turning the forearm over so the palm is up.
    • Extend your arm in front of you with your palm facing down.
    • Slowly rotate your wrist to turn your palm upward.
    • Hold briefly, then return to the starting position.
    • Add repetitions with a hammer. Allow the hammer head to pull the wrist into more supination.
  4. Wrist Pronation: Turning the wrist toward the midline so the palm is facing down.
    • Extend your arm in front of you with your palm facing up.
    • Slowly rotate your wrist to turn your palm downward.
    • Hold briefly, then return to the starting position.
    • Use a hammer with the weight of the hammer head pulling the forearm into pronation.
  5. Wrist Circles- Gently rotate your wrist in a circular motion, first clockwise and then counterclockwise.
    • Start with small circles and gradually increase the size. This exercise improves overall wrist mobility.
  6. Ulnar Deviation: Turning the wrist toward the midline, moving toward the pinkie side of the hand
    • Hold your arm out with your palm facing up.
    • Tilt your wrist toward your little finger while keeping your hand and fingers straight.
    • Return the middle finger to midline.
  7. Radial Deviation: Turning the wrist away from midline, moving toward the thumb side of the hand.
    • Hold your arm out with your palm facing up.
    • Tilt your wrist toward your thumb while keeping your hand and fingers straight.

Specific Wrist Range of Motion Exercises include:

  • Picking up small objects and placing them into containers, especially those on an inclined surface
  • Using hand gripper workout exercises with a stable wrist positioning.
  • Moving through wrist mobility exercises while saying the alphabet or counting
  • Using theraputty exercises
  • Pushups or wall push ups
  • Playing with a ribbon wand or a fairy wand
  • Making a letter rainbow exercise
  • Tendon glide range of motion exercises
  • Using rubber band traction to pull the wrist into full range of motion (PROM)

Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Toys for Wrist Extension and Stability

Wrist bending up with an arrow showing the direction the wrist is bending back. Text reads "wrist extension"

In this blog post, we’re covering wrist extension and wrist stability…and wrist extension toys that support these motor skills through play. You’ll want to check out our wrist range of motion exercises for another hands-on wrist extension activity that kids love. The fine motor skills happening with these activities are huge. And, when the wrist is in optimal positioning, we can support the manual dexterity goals needed for functional skills.

wrist extension

Wrist extension plays a big role in functional tasks, including manipulating objects, ROM, and strength.

Wrist Extension

Before we get to the wrist extension activities, let’s talk about what wrist extension means and how an extended wrist is needed for wrist stability (both as an active muscle group AND as a stabilizer against wrist flexion).

Wrist extension refers to the movement of the wrist as it bends back toward the back of the hand. When the wrist moves, there is a large range of motion and the tendons of the wrist provide great strength that offer structural stability for use of the fingers in grasping.

There are several distinct joints that make up the wrist (did you realize that there were more than one joint in the wrist?!) The joints that make up the wrist include:

  • Radiocarpal joint- this is the joint at the end of the radius which articulates against carpal bones, as well as the end of the ulna bone.
  • Midcarpal joint- This joint space is between the proximal and distal carpal bones in the base of the hand. While the carpal bones might seem like they are part of the hand and not involved with the wrist, these bones actually attach to ligaments which play a role in wrist motions (flexion, extension, and radial and ulnar abduction)
  • Carpometacarpal joints- The base of the carpometacarpals articulate with one another and with the distal carpal bones. The ligaments that attach here play a role in hand and wrist stability. However, the CMC joint of the base of the thumb has a bigger role in wrist extension and stability.

Range of motion in the wrist is dependent on the motion of the hand and fingers. This is because when the hand and fingers are relaxed, the wrist can fully flex (bend at the wrist toward the palm). The wrist can only reach full extension when the fingers are flexed into a fist. This is called close-packed. When this position is achieved, the wrist is in it’s most stable position.

Wrist Extension in Grasping

The strongest grasp will occur when the wrist is extended. If the hand is grasped when the wrist is flexed, you’ll notice a much weaker grip strength.

Why?

Because of the way the muscles in the forearm cross over the wrist. The long finger flexor muscles have an attachment in the forearm and pass over the the wrist. This is where we see wrist stability.

If the wrist flexes while the hand grasps into finger flexion, it’s actually impossible to fully flex the fingers.

You might have seen a child who holds their pencil with a bent wrist and curled up fingers. Maybe you see a kiddo who struggles to hold a fork or spoon.

They’ve probably got their elbow super flexed and their shoulder forward.  
Maybe you have a kiddo who fumbles with buttons and zippers or shows weakness in grasping items.  Perhaps you have an OT client who bends their wrist forward when they are lacing beads or other fine motor tasks.

When the wrist is flexed (bent forward towards curved fingers in a grasp), there is little chance of fine motor dexterity.  A flexed wrist in functional tasks limits use of the fingers due to the tendons of the fingers being shortened as they work to stabilize the wrist.  The fingers just can’t move like they are supposed to.

An example of this in action is when we snap our fingers. It’s possible, but it’s much harder to snap your fingers when your wrist is flexed forward. When you extend your wrist back into extension, it’s much easier to make a loud and crisp snapping sound with your fingers.

Wrist stability toys

Did you know you can support proximal stability and distal mobility through wrist extension toys? It’s true! There are toys and games that target wrist stability so the distal fingers and thumb can manipulate objects with coordination and dexterity.

A pediatric Occupational Therapist knows that with function comes FUN.  And these wrist stability toys are powerful occupational therapy toys that build development and support coordination.

So, when your child’s OT is looking for activities to build the skills needed for development, they know how to add in creative activities that promote independence.  Today, I’ve got fun ways to work on fine motor skills with a functional grasp, specifically the extended wrist.


There are many exercises and activities that can be done to build the stability of the wrist so that it maintains a slightly extended position during fine motor activities.  

I’ll be sharing some DIY creative ideas soon (so stay tuned!) but for now, here are 10 Must Have toys to build wrist stability and extended wrist:

These toys and games are perfect for building wrist stability and strengthening the wrist extension muscles needed for a functional grasp with dexterity in activities like handwriting.
 
 

Toys to Promote an Extended Wrist and Functional Grasp During Fine Motor Activities

These wrist extension toys support a stable wrist. For the child that writes with a flexed wrist, or tries to tie their shoes with bent, flexed wrists, you’ll see less dexterity and mobility in the fingers. Using wrist extension activities with toys can make this strengthening task more fun…and functional! 

1. Lite Brite (affiliate link) Position this old school toy on a slightly elevated surface to promote an extended wrist while managing the small pegs within the hand and with a tripod grasp.


2. Table Top Easel– (affiliate link) This one is double sided to allow for chalk, dry erase markers, and has a clip for attaching paper.  Use the easel for writing, drawing, painting, coloring, chalking, and games like Hand Man to make strengthening fun.


3. Avalanche Fruit Stand Game– (affiliate link) This game is a fun way to build fine motor skills with an extended wrist. 

4. Dartboard– (affiliate link) Tossing darts encourages an extended wrist while holding the darts.  This set comes with magnetic darts, which is great for kids.


5. Pop Beads– (affiliate link) The small size of pop beads promotes dexterity of the fingers as well as resistance to push the beads together.  Encouraging the child to do this task with both elbows on a table surface encourages an extended wrist.


6. Stamps– (affiliate link)  Grab a set of small rubber stamps or any stamp that has a small handle.  Tape a piece of paper to the wall or clip it to an easel.  Holding the handle while stamping on a vertical surface promotes a functional wrist position.


7. Twister game– (affiliate link) Any game or activity that is done with the child extending their wrist as the press their upper body weight through the arm is a great strengthening exercise for wrist stability.  


8. Beads– (affiliate link) Threading beads with a string or plastic cord encourages and extended wrist with fine motor dexterity. Beads can be found in various sizes to meet the needs of the child.


9. Wall Sticky Tack– (affiliate link) Sticky tack?  Really!  Use it to hand paper, mazes, tic tack toe boards, connect the dot pages, and coloring sheets right to the wall!  You can hang paper on the windows, like we did to really work on handwriting with a see-through effect. Writing on the wall is a great way to build wrist stability and promote an extended wrist.


10. Etch-A Sketch– (affiliate link) Another classic toy, the Etch-A Sketch is perfect for building an extended wrist.  Prop it up on a slanted position and be sure to place it upside down so the knobs are at the top.

 
These toys and games are perfect for building wrist stability and strengthening the wrist extension muscles needed for a functional grasp with dexterity in activities like handwriting.

 

 



More Fine Motor Skills you will love:

 Motor Planning Fine Motor Maze hand strengthening activity

wrist extension activities

Wrist Extension Activities

The toys we listed above are fun ways to build and develop wrist extension. You can also try these activities to support wrist stability through extension:

Working on fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory tolerance, handwriting, or scissor skills? Our Fine Motor Kits cover all of these areas and more.

Check out the seasonal Fine Motor Kits that kids love:

Or, grab one of our themed Fine Motor Kits to target skills with fun themes:

Want access to all of these kits…and more being added each month? Join The OT Toolbox Member’s Club!

Wrist Extension Exercises Handout

We have put together a nice resource for you…a free handout on wrist extension exercises. These activities are designed to improve wrist stability and strength needed for fine motor dexterity and handwriting.

Enter your email address into the form below. We’ll send you a copy of this handout. The printable is also found in The Membership Club under therapy tools.

FREE GUIDE: Wrist Exercises Handout

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    Let us know how you use this printable list of exercises for wrist mobility and stability!

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L has been an occupational therapist since 2000, working in school-based, hand therapy, outpatient peds, EI, and SNF. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. Read her story about going from an OT making $3/hour (after paying for kids’ childcare) to a full-time OT resource creator for millions of readers. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.