Exercises for Thumb Arthritis and Osteoarthritis based on Last Evidence

One of the main treatments for thumb Osteoarthritis is Therapeutic Exercise for Hand and Thumb muscles. A huge number of studies has observed how pain, stiffness or functional ability improved, with educational strategies and adherence promotion.

If you prefer, you could watch the video on Youtube:

The therapeutic purpose of this protocol is to recover the lost length of the Adductor Pollicis (TA), and to re-educate the motor control of the Opponent Pollicis (OP), the Abductor Brevis Pollicis (ABP) and the First Dorsal Interosseous (FDI). In this way, it is possible to correct the unbalanced position of the thumb as in this picture:

Thumb Instability (DeMott L, 2017)

How to perform my Thumb Exercises?

1. Thumb exercise with a Tennis Ball

Using a tennis ball, the patient places it in the palm of the hand and grabs it, in a way that allows us:

– to maintain palmar arc.
– to bring the MCF joint into flexion and the CMC into abduction.

With this position he will be asked to squeeze the ball, taking the emphasis off the fingertips. In this way, a more efficient contraction of the tenar and extrinsic muscles will be possible.

Treatment exercise for Thumb Arthritis

2. “Bunny Ears” Exercise

Taking advantage of the same position as in the previous exercise with the ball, we will separate the 2nd and 3rd fingers of the ball, leaving them relaxed, and forming the “ears of the rabbit“. In this position, I’ll ask for an isometric contraction by squeezing the ball, taking the emphasis off the fingertips, as we did before.

It is important that when doing so we can observe the rotation/pronation of the thumb, as this is an indication of contraction of the OP.

Bunny Ears exercise for Thumb Arthritis

3. First Dorsal Interosseous Exercise

With this exercise we look for the specific contraction of this muscle, which will allow us to correct the unstable position of the base of the first metacarpal.

With the same position with the ball in the palm of the hand, we will add an elastic around the fingers, leaving out the thumb. In this position we will request an extension and abduction of the 2nd finger. The muscular belly of the FDI will be clearly observed.

First Dorsal Interosseous exercise.

According to the American Collegue of Sport Medicine, it is recommended to perform them at 40-50% of the patient’s maximum effort, in 5-second isometry, and without pain. 10-15 repetitions of each will be performed every two days. 

Here you have complete publication:

More Thumb exercises in ReHand App

If you need more exercises for you Thumb, you can obtain it in your own tablet with ReHand App. Here we show an exercise example working thenar muscles.

ReHand Exercise for Thumb Arthritis Instability


DeMott, L. (2017). Novel isometric exercises for the dynamic stability programs for thumb carpal metacarpal joint instability. Journal of Hand Therapy, 30(3), 372-375. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jht.2016.09.005.

Pablo Rodríguez Sánchez-Laulhé

Physiotherapist and Health Researcher