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What are Some Ways to Improve Manual Dexterity?

By J. Beam
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon347569 — On Sep 08, 2013

Here's another thought. Teaching yourself to be ambidextrous is a great way to improve dexterity, not just with handwriting but in any activity you can think of. So for example you could take up hobbies like playing the piano, juggling or learning card flourishes.

By OeKc05 — On Feb 21, 2013

Sewing requires a lot of manual dexterity. You also have to have a lot of patience.

I've made my fingers sore and gotten very frustrated before while sewing. Hitting those tiny holes with the needle requires care and attention, and it isn't something you can do in a hurry.

By feasting — On Feb 21, 2013

@cougars – Playing guitar is a great way to work on your manual dexterity. You have to learn new ways of positioning your hands and fingers to comfortably and correctly make the notes, and though you have to go through some pain and discomfort while training your hands and fingers at first, you eventually get to the point where it just comes naturally and feels normal.

Playing piano is also a good way to train your fingers to do something well. I've been playing for so many years that it seems that my fingers know where to go before my brain has a chance to tell them!

By giddion — On Feb 20, 2013

@shell4life – It sure is. Since the manual dexterity definition involves your fingers and hands working together to do a task, being able to type fast without making too many mistakes is a great way to work on this.

Typing too much can result in fatigue, though. I started a job where I had to type all day long, and the tendons in my hands and fingers ached so much in the beginning that I had to alternate between hot and cold packs at night to relieve the pain.

By shell4life — On Feb 20, 2013

Isn't typing one of the activities requiring manual dexterity? If so, then my fingers must be in great shape, because I type quickly and efficiently for many hours a day.

By cougars — On Jul 23, 2010

@ Babalaas- I have to admit that I do play video games on occasion, but not necessarily to improve my manual dexterity. I have noticed though that I have better hand eye coordination because of video games.

I use a grip master, play the trumpet, and I am learning how to play the guitar to improve my manual dexterity. All these exercises can lead to good manual dexterity, and playing the guitar and trumpet is fun. I am definitely no Santana or Miles, but I can dream.

The grip master is nice because you can buy them in all difference tensions. I have the heavy tension grip master, and I often use it when I'm watching television or stressed. The grip master is also nice because you can work each finger individually.

By Babalaas — On Jul 23, 2010

Believe it or not, playing video games can improve manual dexterity skills and hand eye coordination. I am not advocating endless hours of video games as a way to aid a child in development, but age appropriate video games every once in a while can be good for children and adults alike. Maybe it is because I grew up in the era of the video game, but that is just my opinion.

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