How to Decrease Upper Extremity Spasticity With Exercise

Girl tying shoelaces on sneakers. Close-up.

Upper extremity spasticity may affect your ability to tie your shoes or even work for a living. This symptom can follow a traumatic brain injury, stroke or congenital disorder affecting the brain. A combined approach is taken towards treating spasticity, with use of physical and occupation therapy, splints and even medications to decrease the spasms. Exercises to decrease upper extremity spasticity focus on strengthening and stretching the muscles of these limbs.

Stretch the muscle groups affecting your arms. Spasticity may occur in the hands, wrists, forearms or the entire arm. Complete the stretches three times a day as tolerated.

Shrug your shoulders by raising them towards your ears. Gently release to the neutral position and repeat as tolerated.

Clasp your hands in front of your body with your arms straight. Push your hands towards the floor and round your shoulders. Hold for five seconds and release.

Clasp your hands behind your back, or hold onto a towel if your hands cannot meet behind your back. Push your hands down towards the floor, allowing your shoulders to roll back slightly. Hold for five seconds and release.

Roll both shoulders backwards for 10 rolls. Change the direction and roll them forward 10 times. You can also exercise one arm at a time by completing a breast-stroke forward or a back-stroke backward.

Curl your arm up at the elbow and focus on only moving the elbow joint. Flex and extend the elbow joints as tolerated.

Flex your wrist backward and foward to increase range of motion in your wrist. Then place your hand on a flat surface and slide the fingers side to side bending the hand at the wrist. Repeat as tolerated.

Hold onto the small towel and flex your fingers around it making a tight fist. Release the fist and repeat as tolerated to exercise the fingers.

Open your hand and practice tapping each fingerpad to the pad of your thumb individually. Start with the pointer, or first finger, then continue down the line to your pinkie finger. Repeat as tolerated.


Work with your physical therapist to deviate the exercises to fit your ability as needed.

A physiatrist will be able to tailor your exercise and treatment plan to your needs.

Talk to your doctor about adding strength training with weights once you can comfortably repeat the exercises listed.