Stress balls, also known as squeeze balls or hand therapy balls, are small, malleable balls used for relieving stress and anxiety. But can regularly squeezing a stress ball provide benefits beyond stress relief? Here’s a look at what research says about whether stress balls are good for your hands.
How Do Stress Balls Work?
Stress balls are commonly made of materials like rubber, plastic, or foam and are soft and pliable. The act of squeezing them provides sensory input to your hands and engages your sense of touch. Using a stress ball can help channel nervous energy into your hands and fingers.
The repetitive motion of clenching and releasing a stress ball can also help calm the mind by giving it something to focus on. This, combined with the deep pressure input to the hands, helps activate the relaxation response in the body, lowering stress hormones like cortisol.
Potential Hand Health Benefits
Beyond stress relief, some research indicates that regularly using a stress ball could benefit hand strength and dexterity. Here are some of the potential benefits:
- Improved grip strength – Repeatedly squeezing a stress ball can help exercise and strengthen the muscles in the hand and fingers. Stronger grip strength is important for regular daily tasks like opening jars, carrying bags, turning doorknobs, and more.
- Increased dexterity – The fingers and hand have many intricate muscles that control fine motor skills. Working these muscles by squeezing a stress ball may help maintain dexterity which is needed for small, coordinated hand movements.
- Reduce hand tension – Tight, tense muscles in the hands and fingers can lead to soreness or pain. Regularly massaging the muscles with a stress ball can help relax tension and reduce discomfort.
- Rehabilitation after hand injuries – Under guidance from an occupational therapist, stress balls can aid in rehab and regaining strength and mobility after injuries or conditions affecting the hands.
- Improved circulation – The massaging motion of a stress ball can help stimulate blood circulation in the hands and fingers. Good circulation is vital for ensuring nutrients reach the muscles and tissues.
- Decreased joint stiffness – The squeezing action helps limber up the joints in the hands including the metacarpophalangeal joints and interphalangeal joints which can get stiff with arthritis or aging.
Evidence for Hand Health Benefits
There is some scientific research indicating stress balls can improve hand strength and function:
- A 2012 study had participants with osteoarthritis in their hands use a stress ball daily for 6 weeks. They showed improvement in hand grip strength, pinching power, and reported significantly less pain and stiffness in their hands.
- A small 2011 study of patients who had a stroke found that regular exercise with a stress ball helped improve hand strength and dexterity versus those who did not use a stress ball.
- A 2008 study found healthy adults assigned to use a therapy putty or stress ball showed significantly greater improvement in grip strength compared to a control group. The stress ball group also improved performance in a dexterity test.
- Research in stroke patients and those with hand arthritis showed that exercise programs using stress balls helped reduce pain and improve function versus no exercise. Benefits were greater when exercise was supervised by a therapist.
While promising, more high-quality studies are still needed to confirm the benefits of stress balls for hand health, especially long-term effects. But the current evidence suggests they can be a helpful aid when used regularly.
Best Practices for Using a Stress Ball for Hand Health
If you want to incorporate stress ball exercises for improving your hand strength and dexterity, consider these tips:
- Consult your doctor or occupational therapist, especially if you have a hand condition or injury. They can recommend proper techniques and exercises.
- Choose a stress ball with the appropriate resistance – too soft and the muscles won’t get a workout; too hard can strain the hands.
- Warm up the hands before exercising by shaking them out or rotating the wrists.
- Squeeze the ball for several seconds then fully release. Repeat 10-15 times per hand.
- Try various motions like rotating the ball in the palm or using only the fingertips to squeeze.
- Take breaks in between exercises to allow the muscles to rest.
- Focus on good posture and form – no cramping the hands or straining the wrists.
- Stop if you experience pain, tingling, or numbness and consult a doctor if it persists.
- Consider exercising with putty or therabands as well to work the hand muscles in different ways.
- Be patient. Building strength and dexterity takes time. Stick with the exercises regularly.
Are Stress Balls Right for You?
Stress balls are affordable hand therapy tools that can be helpful for keeping the hands nimble and strong when used properly. But they shouldn’t replace medical care. Chronic hand pain, numbness, or loss of function should be evaluated by your doctor. Therapy putty, handgrips, or supervised rehab may be better options in some cases.
While research indicates promise, robust studies on stress balls are still limited. More evidence is needed to confirm long-term effectiveness. But if you use a stress ball as intended for short sessions of grip exercise, it is unlikely to cause any harm and may provide some benefits for your hands. Along with relieving anxiety, a regular stress ball exercise routine can be a healthy way to support your overall hand wellness.