Activities to Improve Upper Body Strength in Occupational Therapy for Adults

Ball exercises help with upper body strength.
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Occupational therapy (OT) focuses on a variety of physical and functional impairments. One main component of OT intervention is upper-body strengthening after injuries such as tendinitis, trauma or stroke. In conjunction with traditional weighted exercises, occupational therapy strengthening activities for adults help improve your muscle strength and endurance. These activities can also target additional issues such as problem solving, safety, balance and direction following. By understanding the purpose of the tasks your occupational therapist provides, you can appreciate the functional outcome associated with the otherwise non-functional tasks.


Read more: Signs & Symptoms of a Pulled Muscle in the Arm

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Play Some Ball

Tossing a ball is generally considered a children's task. However, your OT may use a modified ball toss to help strengthen your muscles. Initially, by tossing a lightweight ball, like a beach ball, you can increase your range of motion and basic strength. As you advance, your therapist may use a heavier ball or weighted cuffs around your wrists to increase the intensity. For maximal strengthening, toss a medicine ball while standing to improve balance and provide significant total body strengthening.

Fine Motor Activities

As you initially recover, your muscles will fatigue with simple activities such as putting pegs into a hole or twisting nuts onto bolts mounted on a board. To further increase your strength, your therapist will challenge you by adding sequentially heavier weighted cuffs to your wrists while completing these tasks. By increasing the time you perform the task without a rest, you can improve your muscle endurance as well. Fine motor activities can be combined with standing balance activities in occupational therapy to help reduce your risk of fall during functional activities.


Read more: Hand Dexterity Exercises

Try the Arm Bike

The arm bike, or upper body ergometer, is often a staple among upper extremity strengthening exercises for occupational therapy. In addition to traditional dumbbell exercises, your occupational therapist will use an arm bicycle to improve your arm strength. Beginning with several minutes of arm cycling at a time, your therapist will add intensity by turning up the cycle's resistance or by increasing the amount of time before a rest break. Practicing this alternating arm movement is helpful because it simulates arm swing that naturally occurs with walking.


Occupational Therapy Activities for Adults

As your arm muscles are strengthened, you can begin to participate in more functional tasks. Your therapist may have you fold laundry to further strengthen your muscles. By folding a large item, such as a comforter, your muscles can get stronger. Additionally, your therapist may have you wear weighted cuffs while you sit and fold laundry. Your overall increased muscle strength and endurance will allow you to physically participate in functional life activities such as meal preparation and getting dressed.


Other Occupational Therapy Benefits

In some cases, strengthening exercises can't adequately restore function in the upper body, such as frequently occurs after stroke. Occupational therapy practitioners use adapted equipment in therapy activities to practice one-handed techniques for daily tasks such as dressing, preparing food and using a computer.




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