Theraputty. Are you wondering if it works, too?
I was pleasantly surprised to find at least a few studies about it, since theraputty seems to be a part of most therapy department’s supply cabinet!
A study (1) with clients who have osteoarthritis used the Theraband® Hand Exerciser (not theraputty, but I thought the outcomes were worth noting) to determine it’s impact on strength, dexterity, and in-hand manipulation. The researchers saw a moderate increase in hand strength (grip and pinch) but no improvement in other functional measures (no statistically significant improvement in dexterity or in-hand manipulation).
In another study(2), with clients who have rheumatoid arthritis, researchers compared a conservative hand exercise program versus an intensive hand exercise program, both using a therapeutic “dough”. Both programs used isometric exercises and the “dough”. The intensive program was distinguished mostly by increased repetition and time. Those in the intensive exercise program increased grip strength and decreased pain more than the conservative group. Both groups trended towards increased grip strength. But, again, there were no statistically significant differences in functional measures.
In a more recent study (3), researchers studied the feasibility of a therapeutic exercise program for individuals with polymyositis and dermatomyositis. The intervention was a structured exercise program with theraputty. Exercises mimicked daily activities that require fine motor coordination and fine motor strength. The researchers saw mild increases in hand strength (mostly three jaw chuck) but no change in functional measures.
Another recent study (4) with clients who have Parkinson’s disease demonstrated a statistically significant increase in grip and pinch strength AND improvement in manual dexterity after a one-time 15 minute intervention using theraputty. Outcome measures were taken before and after the one-time 15 minute intervention. These results are interesting for PD research as it relates to motor control in PD, since they were not measuring a true change in muscle strength.
A final study that was recently published requested that elderly clients use either 1) theraputty every day or 2) theraputty every other day to determine a threshold for changes in strength over time (5). After 8 weeks, small changes in grip and pinch strength measurements were noted in both groups. However, the changes were not statistically different between the two groups (high frequency versus lower frequency) on final strength measures
BOTTOM LINE: Data from these studies using theraputty as an intervention shows that theraputty may increase grip and pinch strength, with minimal to moderate improvements noted. BUT, no study supported an improvement in functional abilities as a result of using theraputty (except the PD study, but this study wasn’t measuring a true change in muscle strength).
So, seems to me that the data supports the idea that theraputty can improve grip and pinch strength, but an increase in strength does not necessarily lead to an improvement in function.
So, theraputty, then what??!!
(1) Rogers, M., & Wilder, F. (2009). Exercise and Hand Osteoarthritis Symptomatology: A Controlled Crossover Trial. Journal of Hand Therapy, 22(1), 10-18.
(2) Rønningen, A., & Kjeken, I. (2008). Effect of an intensive hand exercise programme in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 15, 173-183.
(3) Regardt, M., Schult, M.-L., Axelsson, Y., Aldehag, A., Alexanderson, H., Lundberg, I., & Henriksson, E. (2014). Hand Exercise Intervention in Patients with Polymyositis and Dermatomyositis: A Pilot Study. Musculoskeletal Care, 12, 160-172.
(4)Mateos-Toset, S., Cabrera-Martos, I., Torres-Sánchez, I., Ortiz-Rubio, A., González-Jiménez, E., & Valenza, M. (2016). Effects of a Single Hand-Exercise Session on Manual Dexterity and Strength in Persons with Parkinson Disease: A Randomized Controlled Trial. PM and R, 8, 115-122.
(5) Guderian, B., Johnson, A., & Mathiowetz, V. (2013). Impact of Exercise Frequency on Hand Strength of the Elderly. Physical & Occupational Therapy in Geriatrics, 31(3), 268-279.
Featured photo courtesy of Jeremy Zawodny at Flickr.com.