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Manual dexterity is the ability of the hands and fingers to make coordinated movements. Strong fine motor skills, such as used with writing, knitting, sewing, and other activities that involve the hands and fingers, rely on this dexterity. In young children, it is developed normally through routine activities that also require hand-eye coordination.
Some children’s manual dexterity develops faster and stronger than that of others. A child with weak final motor skills may struggle some when learning to form letters and beginning to write. Because there are many reasons why fine motor skills may be affected and weaknesses in these areas may cause problems for children in school, pediatric occupational therapists often work with a variety of children to improve these abilities.
There are several ways to help a child improve his or her manual dexterity through simple hands-on activities. For a child, exercising the fingers and hands can dramatically lead to dramatic improvement. Parents may want to try some of the following activities:
- Children can thread O-shaped cereal pieces onto a length of yarn. This activity requires fine motor skills and is repetitively exercising the same muscles, all while practicing hand-eye coordination.
- Wooden peg games or similar toys that require placing pegs into small holes can improve motor skills.
- Sewing with yarn and cardboard cutouts is another activity that can improve manual dexterity and builds on fine motor skills. Children simply feed the yarn back and forth through holes, which is again repeating the same skill over and over.
- For particularly young children who cannot play with small objects, a classic shape sorter toy is a great place to start. For older children, small, interlocking building blocks are great ways to play while improving this ability.
Where young children are concerned, the goal is to improve manual dexterity to build fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. In older individuals suffering from the onset of arthritis, however, preserving these skills is the primary concern. Exercising the fingers and hands without overdoing it is key. People who have arthritis should avoid prolonged activities that cause pain in the joints of fingers and hands, and simply perform activities in shorter periods. When possible, they should use both hands to reduce the strain and be sure to rest the joints before pain sets in.
Arthritis sufferers may want to consider periodic and passive hand massages, getting them either from a manicurist, physical therapist, or family member. Sometimes, working through the pain to keep the fingers limber is necessary, but people should not let the pain get ahead of them or their pain reliever. If painful arthritis has set in, patients should consult a medical professional for management and treatment. He or she can recommend hand exercises tailored to the individual.
Early arthritis detection and pain management along with a commitment to continue using fingers and hands is necessary to preserve manual dexterity, which will mean the person can retain most normal use of his or her hands for a long time.