A variety of conditions can cause loss of strength and mobility in the fingers, including acute hand injuries, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis. If your index finger has been immobilized in a splint or cast, you may need to perform stretches and exercises to restore its ability to bend or flex. Stretches and exercises also can maintain and improve strength and flexibility in fingers affected by certain health disorders.
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The index finger is composed of three small bones: the proximal phalange, middle phalange and distal phalange. These bones join together at the proximal interphalangeal joint, or PIP, and the distal interphalangeal joint, or DIP. The proximal phalange joins the hand bone, or metacarpal, at the knuckle, also known as the metacarpophalangeal joint, or MCP. The muscles on the palm side of the hand flex the fingers, while the muscles on the top of the hand extend the fingers. The index finger operates by three main muscles: the flexor digitorum superficialis, flexor digitorum profundus and index lumbrical.
Holding your hand palm-up on the table, bend your fingers to make a fist, then straighten. Then, use your fingers to grasp a large object such as a tennis ball. Progress to smaller objects, such as a golf ball, marble and grain of rice. Work to bend your index finger to grasp the object with the tip of your finger and thumb. Another easy exercise is crumpling a paper towel with one hand; progress to thicker towels or pieces of paper.
Blocking exercises allow the index finger to improve flexion one joint at a time. To block the MCP joint, gently stabilize your knuckle with the other hand as you practice bending and straightening your finger. Block the MCP and PIP joints by holding your knuckle and first joint of your finger straight, and just bending the tip of your finger.
Composite Flexion Exercises
Composite flexion exercises help to improve index finger flexion by bending all of the fingers at once. This allows the index finger to operate in conjunction with the neighboring fingers, and also helps the tendons in the palm to glide smoothly. To perform, rest your elbow on the table with your hand in front of your face. Make a hook with your fingers by just flexing the DIP and PIP joints, keeping the MCP joint extended. Then flex the MCP to make a full fist. Relax, and repeat throughout the day.
If you experience pain or tenderness with these exercises, or have had a recent injury, consult your doctor or therapist. Certain conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, may lead to finger deformities, and you may need to adapt these exercises.