Waking up to stiff hands and fingers makes it tough to cope with your morning routine. Even the simplest of tasks -- grasping your toothbrush, buttoning your blouse or opening a jar of instant coffee -- can be exasperating. Whether your morning stiffness is caused by a medical condition -- such as arthritis -- or by gripping your tennis racket, knitting needles or snow shovel too aggressively, you can loosen up your digits, boost hand strength and improve hand function with gentle exercises.
If your hands and fingers are particularly stiff in the morning, spend a few minutes preparing them for exercise. Fill the bathroom sink or a large mixing bowl with warm water and soak your hands before exercising them. You can also take advantage of the water's warmth and buoyancy and perform the exercises with your hands submerged in the water. Alternatively, shake your hands lightly or massage every finger -- gently kneading from the base of the finger to its tip -- to stimulate blood flow before you get to work.
Hand exercises are generally easy to learn and execute. Simply close your hand into a fist and then expand your fingers as far as they'll go. Or try finger glides. Starting with your fingers together, wrist flexed and fingers directed upward, slowly curl your fingertips and glide them downward along your palm until they are pointing toward the floor. Reverse direction, gliding the fingertips upward to the start position.
Do finger walks. With your palm flat on a table and your fingers together, move your thumb as far as possible to the side, then "walk" the other fingers one-by-one toward it.
Finger raises also require a table top. Place your palm on the table, raise your pointer as much as possible off the table, hold briefly and lower it. Repeat with each of the other fingers. To target your thumb specifically, rest your hand palm-up on the table. Extend your thumb to the side, away from your fingers, and then draw the tip of the thumb across your palm, toward the base of your pinkie. Relax and repeat.
For variety and added resistance, you can use foam balls, therapeutic putty, large rubber bands and gripping devices designed to build hand and finger strength and improve mobility. Even a plain sheet of paper can be useful for working off morning stiffness. Working one hand at a time, grab one corner of a piece of paper and quickly grab at it, crushing it into a ball in the palm of your hand. Release the ball and fan your fingers outward before repeating with your other hand.
When used in the morning, hand exercises can help you jump-start your day. When you perform them at night, you might discover you're less stiff when you wake up. For maximum benefit, work through your full range of motion and perform exercises at least once a day. If you have arthritis and your joints are particularly swollen and stiff, certain exercises might aggravate your condition, so consult your doctor about the advisability of particular exercises.