Not only do broken bones make everyday life harder, they can also limit your ability to exercise. Luckily, working out with a broken hand isn't as hard as working out with a broken foot. There are plenty of exercises you can still do to stay in shape and maintain mobility as your hand heals.
Working Out With a Cast
When you have a cast on your hand, there are some things you can't do — such as using a rowing machine and doing deadlifts. Those activities will have to wait until your hand fully heals and you have the green light from your doctor. There are still exercises you can do, although you will have to consider a few things first:
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- What you can do depends on the severity of your fracture. If you have a cast rather than a splint, you may have had surgery to repair your broken bone, which means your injury is more serious and your healing time more prolonged. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, you may have the cast for three to six weeks.
- The U.S. National Library of Medicine recommends keeping your hand elevated above your heart for the first one to two weeks to reduce swelling. This is often done with the use of a sling. Having your hand in a sling will further limit your abilities in the beginning. Once swelling has receded, you can remove the sling with your doctor's permission and add in more variety to your workout routine.
- Your workout can include cardio and strength training as usual, but you should also include some specific exercises for the shoulder and arm of your affected hand. This will help relieve stiffness and prevent muscle atrophy while in a cast.
- Keep your cast away from direct water. You also need to protect it from sweat, advises the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. A cast that repeatedly gets wet with either water or sweat may start to smell bad.
Safe Cardio and Strength Training
You can do almost any exercise you'd like as long as it doesn't hurt your hand or increase the risk of reinjury. Use common sense. Anything that requires you to grip with your hand is off-limits. Equipment that requires the use of handrails for safety reasons, such as a stair climber, is probably not a good idea, nor is anything that requires balancing precariously. High-intensity, high-impact exercise and contact sports are also off-limits. Here are a few low-impact cardio options:
- Go for a brisk walk or jog outdoors.
- Go for an easy to moderate hike — nothing in which your balance may be tested or that requires scrambling or climbing rocks.
- Walk or jog on a treadmill.
- Ride a recumbent stationary bike.
Strength training is where things become a bit more difficult. For your lower body, use body weight exercises and exercise machines with weight stacks and pins that are easy to maneuver. Do body weight squats and lunges on a stable surface. Use the leg press, leg extension and seated hamstring curl machines. You can also do glute bridges and body weight hip thrusts.
Upper body exercise options are more limited. You may be able to use one or two machines that don't require you to grip anything, such as shoulder extensions with pads that rest on your forearms, or a pec deck machine where you push against pads with your forearms. Go for lower weight and higher repetitions.
Read more: Chest Workouts You Can Do With a Broken Hand
Exercises to Try
Move 1: Resistance Band Fly
- Anchor a resistance band at chest height.
- Step away from the anchor point with the resistance band handles looped around your forearms.
- Keeping your elbows slightly bent, bring your forearms in toward each other as you contract your chest muscles against the resistance.
Move 2: Resistance Band Reverse Fly
- Turn to face the anchor point.
- Loop the handles around the backs of your forearms and open your arms against the resistance as you squeeze your shoulder blades together.
Move 3: Forearm Push-up
- Place a foam pad or pillow under your forearms so that your hand with the cast hangs over the edge and is not in contact with the floor.
- Align your forearms parallel to each other with your shoulders directly over your elbows.
- Lift your knees off the ground so your body is in one straight line.
- Push through your forearms to lift and round your upper back slightly; then depress your shoulders and lower your body closer to the mat without moving your forearms.
- Press back up to a slightly rounded back and repeat.
The exercises above won't be appropriate for everyone with a broken hand. It depends on the severity of your injury and what you are physically able to do. Never do an exercise that causes pain or that your doctor has not approved.
Remember to warm up before each workout by doing five to 10 minutes of cardio. Spend a few minutes before and after your workout doing shoulder and mobility exercises, such as arm circles, shoulder rolls and a doorway chest stretch. Improve elbow mobility by flexing and extending the elbow and rotating your forearms in and out. Ask your doctor for recommendations on exercises to encourage healing and mobility while you're wearing a cast.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.