Physical Therapy Exercise Program After a Colles' Fracture

PT Exercises for Your Wrist

If you have fallen onto an outstretched hand (or a FOOSH injury), then you may have suffered a Colles' fracture. A Colles' fracture is a fracture of the wrist bones where the bones are displaced. It typically requires surgery to reduce or set the bones. You may have a long period of immobilization in a cast or splint after the injury.

Physical therapy for a Colles' fracture involves improving wrist and arm movement and strength. Your physical therapist will help you with exercises to regain normal mobility.

The home exercise program is an important part of your Colles' fracture rehab. The exercises you perform at home can help support your physical therapy treatments.

This article discusses four wrist exercises your physical therapist may suggest using at home.

Before starting this, or any other exercise program, be sure to check in with your healthcare provider. They can help ensure that it is safe for you to do.

1

Wrist Range of Motion

Photo of a doctor examining a woman's hand.
Adam Gault/SPL/Getty Images

After wearing a cast or a splint, you may have noticed that the muscles and joints around your wrist feel tight. This is normal, and your first exercises after removal of your cast should be geared towards regaining wrist range of motion. Range of motion is the movement that you can do around the joint.

To start regaining wrist range of motion:

  1. Hold your arm out in front of you.
  2. Slowly bend your hand and fingers up as if you were signaling for someone to "stop."
  3. Hold this hand with your non-injured hand, and gently add pressure by pulling your hand and fingers back.
  4. Hold the position for five seconds, and then relax.
  5. Repeat the stretch for five repetitions.
  6. Flex your wrist down while holding your arm in front of you.
  7. Gently add pressure by grasping your hand and bending it further into the position. Hold this position for five seconds.
  8. Repeat five times.

Your physical therapist may also prescribe exercises to work on turning your hand over. These might be motions like when you're pouring a pitcher of water or carrying a bowl of soup.

These advanced wrist stretches can be started later. Your initial focus should be on gaining wrist flexion and extension, or bending down and up.

Recap

Your physical therapist may start you with gentle exercises to improve your wrist's range of motion. You'll work on wrist flexion, or bending your hand down at the wrist, and wrist extension, or bending your hand up at the wrist.

2

Handgrip Exercises

Picture of the towel handgrip exercise.
Brett Sears, PT

Once your healthcare provider removes your cast, you may notice it's harder to grip things. Your PT may prescribe specific exercises to help improve your handgrip strength.

Exercises to improve hand grip may include:

  • Towel gripping (holding and squeezing a rolled towel)
  • Handgrip exercises with a Digi-Flex device (a hand-therapy tool)

When performing gripping exercises, be sure to hold each repetition for a few seconds, and grip with slow, deliberate motions. Perform each exercise for 10 to 15 repetitions.

Recap

Your physical therapist may suggest exercises to improve your hand grip. You can use a rolled towel or a hand-therapy tool called a Digi-Flex device.

3

Putty Exercises for Thumb and Fingers

Image of elderly woman receiving hand physical therapy with putty.
Pamela Moore/Getty Images

To help improve the strength of your fingers after a Colles' fracture, your physical therapist may prescribe putty exercises to perform. Your PT may give you some putty, or you can buy some Silly Putty.

Squeeze the putty between your thumb and fingers, and then squeeze it between two individual fingers. You can also roll the putty into a long tube and shape it into a ring. Place the ring around your fingers to work on extending your fingers against resistance.

Recap

Putty can be used as a tool to help you regain strength in your fingers. You can use the putty to squeeze between your thumb and fingers and between individual fingers.

4

Wrist and Forearm Strengthening

A small weight can be used to improve wrist strength.

Brett Sears, PT

The muscles around your wrist and forearm may be weak from the injury and your wrist being immobilized. Your physical therapist may prescribe wrist strengthening exercises with a dumbbell to help improve your strength.

Remember to start slow with a light weight. Once your wrist strengthens, you can progress to a heavier weight. Check in with your PT to ensure that you are using the proper resistance for your specific condition.

Recap

Light weights can help strengthen your wrists. Be sure to check with your PT beforehand to make sure you're using a safe amount of weight.

Summary

If you had a Colles' fracture, you may need physical therapy to regain strength and mobility in your wrist. Your physical therapist will work with you on exercises to do at home. This may include improving your wrist's range of motion, working on your grip, and increasing strength in your fingers and wrist.

Always check with your healthcare provider before doing these exercises independently. They can make sure that they're safe for you and won't cause additional injury.

A Word From Verywell

A Colles' fracture can be a painful injury that causes significant functional limitations in your hand and arm. Learning the right exercises to do can help you regain normal functional use of your arm and hand.

With physical therapy and exercises at home, you can be sure to quickly and safely get back to your maximum potential.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I manage pain from a broken wrist?

    You may be prescribed opioids for a short period of time, but stop taking those as soon as you can. Then, you can use non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) along with ice and gentle movement. 

  • Are wrist wraps good to use when you’re recovering from a broken wrist?

    If you’re lifting weights, wrist wraps can prevent you from overextending your wrist and protect you from reinjuring your wrist. But these supports can cause you to become dependent on the wraps, which could lead to weakness and further injury. Building strength gradually and avoiding exercises that pose a high risk to injury is a better plan.

  • How long do I need to do physical therapy for a broken wrist?

    Healing varies, but it may take 12 to 16 weeks of physical therapy before you are able to return to normal activities.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Distal Radius Fractures (Broken Wrist).

  2. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. Pain Management: How To Get Pain Relief.

Additional Reading
  • Arnold, CM. Falls and wrist fracture: relationship to women's functional status after age 50. Canadian Journal on Aging; 2016 35(3): 361-71.