13 Ways To Improve Joint Stability In The Arm To Improve Fine Motor
Not many people think of these together, but wrist, elbow, and shoulder are important to provide the support for the hands to develop good fine motor skills.
Last month we talked about improving fine motor by strengthening the hand. We discussed why beefing up the hand meat is so crucial to improving our fine motor fingers. There was talk of gripping pickle jars, mixing chocolate, and snapping crayons in half with a vengeance. Holy cow it was so much fun! So if you didn’t read last week’s blog, 13 Simple Hand Strengthening Activities To Improve Fine Motor Skills, go back and read it really quick. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
This is part II of a three part series on improving fine motor without doing fine motor. Last week we looked at the hand and what we could do to strengthen it. And now we are going to look at the arm. Don’t forget, we are going backwards from the hand towards the body. So let’s go back to our tree analogy to refresh our memories or fill in those who skipped the first one and have no idea what I’m talking about.
Trees need leaves to live. To grow leaves they need to have stable tiny branches on which to grow them. These would be our fingers. But in order to have strong tiny branches the trees need good, solid, stable limbs. This would be our wrist, elbow, and shoulder. These three joints need to be good, solid, and stable to provide the support for the hand to do things like tie shoes, write, or use tweezers to pull out splinters. Remember; proximal stability equals distal mobility. So the more stable we are to the trunk of our body, the more mobile our hands can be to do things like picking up a half eaten strawberry off the kitchen floor (So difficult. So, so difficult). So how do we get good, solid, and stable limbs? I’m glad you asked.
We’ve already strengthened our hand so let’s continue to move backwards toward the core of our tree trunk (or the core of our bodies’ trunk).
A) Wrist and Elbow:
Not many people think of these together buts the two joints are linked because of the radius and ulna bones in our forearm. So when we are working on our wrist we tend to work on our elbow at the same time. So by looking at the wrist you tend to influence the elbow as well as the shoulder in a lot of cases. Especially when you are doing weight bearing activities. Putting body weight on the wrists by pressing or pulling is a great way to strengthen all the arm joints all at once.
1. Crawling - Try upgrade to wheel barrows
Think pushups as the ultimate wrist and elbow compression. These typically aren't that fun for most kids but many kids will crawl up and over pillows or mats then have to press down to come down.You can grade up by doing wheel barrows, where someone holds the kids feet while they walk on their hands. A bit harder.
2. Traction - As simple as the monkey bars
When I hear this word I think of somebody in some crazy medical bed being hung from the ceiling. Not that. Traction just means hanging. Think trapeze bars or monkey bars at the park. Hanging from things with my hands is a great way to build that wrist up.
3. Sticks - It's great because they are fun
A stick is a bat, a club, a tennis racket, a pool noodle, or an actual stick. Putting sticks on our hands makes us grip but also to turn, flex, and extend the wrist in a lot of planes in order to hit, smash, swing, strike, stab, or any other onomatopoeia. So many sports use some kind of stick but nobody says you have to use a hockey stick to hit a hockey puck. You can also use it to whap water balloons, foam blocks, or Barbie Dolls across the room.
4. Drumming - This is one of my favorites!
Hitting things with the hand rhythmically is therapeutic for regulation, timing, rhythm, and a billion other things but it’s also great for strengthening the wrist and arm. Drums, yoga balls, the floor, a baby pool filled with water, dad’s tummy, whatever motivates the kiddo to do that drumming action. Put it to music to make it last longer or make up your own beats. Plus an AWESOME activity to do before something fine motor to help wake up the hands. Maracas and other noise makers count too!
The shoulder is a complex joint made up of the shoulder blade, collar bone, and the humerus bone. It is a convoluted conjunction of bones, muscles, and connective tissue. And it’s also one of the most utilized joints in our body for everyday function. Having a stable shoulder joint is crucial to having functional fine motor and it’s super fun and easy to strengthen.
5. Wrist and elbow - The whole body connectedness in everything
All the things stated above to strengthen the wrist and elbow. There is whole body connectedness in everything and what is good for the goose is good for the gander. I think I’m using that phrase correctly. I’m not 100% sure what it even means. But the body is connected and gooses and ganders have elbows. So there.
6. Reaching up - Great way to strengthen all sides of the shoulder
Reaching up can look like a lot of things. Everything from reaching up above the head to write on a whiteboard to taking things off a high shelf, to reaching for a monkey bar. Keeping the shoulder still while reaching up to do something is a great way to strengthen all sides of the shoulder. It’s an isometric hold and that means all the muscles around the shoulder are working together to keep it steady.
7. Pulling - Try sitting high up and pull up a bucket of tennis balls
Pulling helps the back of the shoulder. Think of pulling a rope with something heavy on the end or a kiddo pulling their body weight up a ramp. One I like is a kiddo sitting high up in a tree house, a kitchen counter, or high on the couch to pull up a bucket of tennis balls or match box cars. Something that a kid would want to bring towards them. The opposite of broccoli or a math worksheet. Pulling is also traction when hanging by the hands.
8. Pushing - Try move the weighted blanket off a bed
We covered some pushing things in the wrist and shoulder when crawling or “push up” type activities. Pushing can also be moving things forward. Like grabbing pillows or weighted blankets and moving them off a bed or to push down a ramp.
9. Throwing - Aim for the garbage can
Throwing is just really fast pushing with the whole body. Hitting targets with objects or rolling medicine balls across the floor. This would be a good time to give them that broccoli to eat or the math worksheet to complete. Excellent motivation for throwing something into the garbage can.
C) Hand, wrist, elbow, shoulder
There are a million things to strengthen all of these and as I stated before if you’re addressing one you are probably addressing all or most of them at the same time. But here is a list of whole body activities that I like to use to strengthen the arms and the hands.
10. Obstacle courses - I like to throw in things that kids have to grip and move
They are great to throw in crawling, climbing, pulling, and pushing. I really like to throw in things that kids have to grip and move such as a huge stuffed animal, weighted blanket, or climb up something like a sheet where they have to bunch up the material to grab.
11. Tree climbing, a playground or any outside play
Being outside with trees to climb, rocks to scramble, sticks to grab and swing, stones to throw, and playgrounds to play on naturally naturally promote hand and arm use. All of which build strong limbs. There is reaching, pulling, traction, grabbing, crawling, scooting, rolling, pushing, all of the important “ings” to build strong healthy bodies. If sensory overload is not a problem, leaving your kiddo outside for a long time is some of the best overall therapy. Kids tend to naturally gravitate towards things their brain and bodies need to develop. Plus it’s free and you don’t have to manage anything!
12. Lifting weights
If your kiddo is motivated to do a regular workout like lifting weights then that is an excellent way to strengthen that trifecta of joints. Curling dumbbells or pressing barbells is all weight bearing, traction, and gripping! Elastic bands, weight machines, medicine balls, all exercise equipment promotes moving weight and strengthening muscles. All of which build support around joints. Be sure to start light and use proper technique and if you don’t have any experience in that area always ask a professional for help.
13. On stomach with elbow prop
When you lay down on your stomach and prop yourself up on your elbows you are doing a sort of isometric hold in your shoulders and elbows. As well, you are providing good support to those two joints to help the hand be a bit more dexterous. This is a good position to work on puzzles, color, read, play with toys, and as much as I try not to promote it; using a screen. If your kiddo is doing any one of these things try to coax them into this stomach position and prop themselves up on their elbows. They get what they want and you secretly get them to build strength while twirling your moustache and laughing maniacally.
All of these things listed above are to promote good, solid, stable joints specifically in our wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
If this trio is strong then that makes the focus on our fine motor activity all that much more effective. The limbs of the tree are safely attached to the trunk which gives freedom for the twigs to grow leaves.
Last month we looked at building hand strength. This month dived into joint stability. Next month we will look at the trunk of the tree. Looking at the trunk and the strength of the core of a person is foundational. Everything stems from our core. If a tree has weak roots and an unstable core it is only a matter of time before that tree falls over. The human body is no different. If a kiddos core is not strong then putting that pencil in her hand could be extremely difficult. The Christmas tree with the rotten trunk will not hold the ornaments very long. So if your kiddo is having trouble with fine motor, start looking at their hand strength, arm joint stability, and core strength. Addressing the these can help with more than just fine motor.
7 equipments to help build joint stability in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
I’ve stated before that I love gear. Sensory gear, fitness gear, sports gear, outdoor gear. Anything geary really. I must have 6 backpacks. Gear is cool and helpful but when it comes to sensory or kid gear, this stuff can get expensive. It is my goal to show you alternatives to use to help meet sensory needs that can be found around the house or even at the thrift store. That being said, sometimes it is nice to have a piece of equipment because many of them are designed for a specific thing and can be hard to replicate. That also being said, there are many unintended ways to use a piece of gear to help benefit your kiddo in so many different ways!
So here is a list of things that can be used to develop joint stability in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. This list is here to show you specifics as well as to help you generate your own ideas.
1. Lakikid Resistance Bands / Fidget Chair Bands. Resistance bands are an excellent way to build joint stability by holding the bands outstretched. This promotes an isometric hold which works both sides of the joint. Exercise bands are a bit long for kids and most of them use them as giant rubber bands to snap into the wall or back at you. Lakikid makes a cool smaller one that is designed to go around the legs of a chair for feet. But it’s also great to use in a slingshot style to hit targets or to pull on. The way it’s made doesn’t allow it to fling that far but please be careful of eyes if using it this way!
2. Trapeze Bars. Trapeze bars can be found in the shape of a tree branch or even at the playground. Both of which are free! But if you are looking for something to put in your home there are many things to choose from. An example would be a door bar with a trapeze to attach like the one in the link.
3. Lakikid Balance Ball What’s cool about this balance ball is that you can use it for everything a balance ball is used for. With the addition of the feet stands, kids can use them to grab and smash targets on the ground or the wall. All to promote that hand grip and joint stability. Remember we also talked about drumming. If you have a drum in the house then use that but another option is to use the balance ball as a drum. It’s a lot easier on the hands!
4. Ropes. Again, the most high tech piece of equipment you can find. Find a rope. Tie something heavy to one end of it. Pull it. You can find rope at the hardware store, in your garage, at the shipyard, or use old dog leashes if you want. Just in case you want something unused here is a link.
5. Weighted Pillows. These are cool because they are heavy and soft. Lakikid makes two pillows. A weighted lap pad and a neck pillow. Both can be used for deep pressure but pillows such as this are great for grabbing and throwing or grabbing and moving or grabbing and push/pulling. And when they’re done they can curl up with them because they’re cute and soft.
7. BOSU Elite. The BOSU ball had an upgrade and it is awesome for kids! I use this tool ALL THE TIME with my kiddos and myself. There are so many ways to use it but in this instance it is excellent to crawl on and push because it pushes back. I happen to sell this piece of equipment on my site and it is on the pricey side. I normally have an equivalent piece of equipment to show but this is a hard one to duplicate.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Founder of Sensory Fitness. As an occupational therapy assistant, personal trainer, and special education teacher Matt Sloan has directed his experience into specialized fitness programs for everyone while catering to sensory difficulties, neurodiversity, or any special need. Matt also brings sensory education and strategies to educators, parents, fitness professionals, and anyone working with a sensory difficulties to provide sensory strategies, create sensory friendly environments, and promote the importance of movement in learning and everyday activities.
LakiKid products are tailor-made for children with special needs. All materials are carefully selected to deliver therapeutic benefits and evidence-based aid.