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Difficulties Using Hands and Arms

Brain injuries from any cause can lead to weakness or poor coordination in your arms or hands. Hands are important. We use them all the time. I just ate my breakfast with my right hand. I am typing this article with both hands. I used both hands and arms to get dressed. So if you have weakness in one or both hands, life can be more difficult.

Depending on the extent of the injury, hand and arm weakness can vary from mild to severe. A mild injury may lead to slightly decreased coordination, perhaps making typing a little more difficult. An injury on one side of the brain can lead to weakness on the opposite side of the body, with difficulty using the hand on that side. This is called hemiparesis and is the typical pattern of weakness after a stroke. A severe injury may lead to weakness and difficulty using both hands.

How to improve hand and arm use:

Strengthen weak muscles

Stretch tight muscles

Use a hand or wrist brace

Use assistive devices

Use Botox or Dysport injections for spasticity

Practice using your hands every day

To improve in anything we do, practice is extremely important. In the next section you will find people who can help you know what to practice. But practicing each day at home is the most important thing you can do to improve.

Who can help me improve my hand use?

  • Occupational therapists
    • Occupational therapists help people improve their ability to use their arms and hands. They help people regain independence in their daily living skills, such as eating, dressing, and bathing. They can help you relearn to type, to cook. They can help you be more successful at school or work.

    • Occupational therapists help you strengthen weak muscles or improve coordination. They also help you find adaptive devices to make tasks easier. Items such as a built up spoon, a reacher for dressing, a pen grip, or elastic shoe laces can make life easier. There are so many inexpensive devices available to help. Occupational therapists are experts in knowing what devices can help.
  • Physiatrists
    • Physiatrists (doctors specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation) can help with figuring out how to help improve your hand use. A physiatrist can determine why you are having hand or arm difficulties. Is it weakness, spasticity, decreased coordination, pain, or another issue? He or she can then give you exercises, prescribe therapy, give injections for spasticity, prescribe a brace or determine if surgery might be helpful. Some physiatrists treat patients with brain injury and other physiatrists treat musculoskeletal conditions like back pain. Be sure that the physiatrist you see treats brain injury survivors.