You might not think about how critical wrist extension is to perform everyday tasks. However, this body movement plays a major role in life. Wrist extension is the ability to move your hand backwards, towards your forearm. This motion allows the hand to be placed in an optimal position, which will allow children to manipulate objects in their environment.
Children need wrist extension in order to:
- Cut with scissors
- Turn a door knob
- Use feeding utensils
The list goes on.
Children that lack wrist extension may perform fine motor tasks with a hooked wrist. This wrist position lengthens the back of the hand and does not allow for full range of motion of the hand and fingers. This limits the child’s ability to successfully manipulate objects throughout the day. A child with this wrist position may complain of fatigue or pain when using the hand over time. They may also have a difficult time cutting, writing, opening doors, feeding themselves and more.
When I see that a child has limited wrist extension in the school setting, it is typically due to the lack of strength or range of motion of the wrist, arms or core. Therefore, I like to incorporate play activities that focus on the mobility and strength of those body parts during therapy sessions. Over time, the child’s strength and range of motion improves. Therefore, it is essential to grade the activity, so that the child continues to challenge their body and muscles.
Below are three activities to promote and improve a child’s wrist extension:
1. Activities on a Vertical Surface
Coloring/painting/writing on an easel or a paper taped to the wall are great activities because it helps to naturally place the wrist into extension with the elbow close to the body. If the child happens to move the elbow away from the body, I encourage the child to keep the elbow close and in line with the wrist and shoulder. This activity not only addresses wrist extension, but it also works on elbow and shoulder strength and endurance. Completing activities on a vertical surface is always one of my go to activities because you can be very creative with the activities. The child can use a spray bottle and towel to clean the walls or windows. They can paint, write, and cut. The child can complete other activities taped to the wall, such as a painted toilet paper rolls and dropping in colorful pom-poms.
2. Animal Walks
This activity works on wrist extension range of motion, endurance, and strength through weight bearing for extended period of time. This activity also works on the child’s core, shoulders and elbow stability. Animal walks can be performed as an exercise, during a relay race, or as part of an obstacle course.
3. Carrying a Tray
Working on carrying a tray, like in a restaurant, is a great way to address wrist extension. You can grade this activity by the objects that go on the tray. The heavier or more unstable the objects are, the harder it will be to carry the tray. This will put more demand on the muscles and make them work harder. If you don’t have a tray, a plate or box will do. You can grade this activity by allowing the child to use both hands in front of the body, with the tray placed on top of the palms. To advance this activity, the child can remove one hand and move the tray to the side of the body (like a server). You can use stable objects such as empty cups, bottles, and small containers in the beginning. From there, you can advance to unstable objects, such as balancing a cup filled with liquid and balls.