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.

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

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