Measuring Grip Strength for Health

Hand grip strength measurer

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Grip strength, also known as hand strength, is an anthropometric measurement that indicates muscle health in the hands and forearms. The measurement is often included in longitudinal studies because it's an indicator of the overall well-being of an adult subject.

How Grip Strength Is Measured

If you visit an occupational or physical therapist for any condition related to weakness, your physician will likely conduct a grip strength test. Grip strength is usually measured using a hand-held dynamometer. The patient squeezes the dynamometer with all of their strength, typically three times with each hand. An average score is then calculated using the measurements from both hands.

A 2010 article published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that healthy minimum squeeze measurements associated with better mobility in older adults were approximately 72.6 pounds for men of normal weight and 44 pounds for women.

Why Does Grip Strength Matter?

Grip strength grows weaker as we age, which eventually begins to affect our day-to-day. Simple things like opening jars, carrying groceries and turning doorknobs are made more or less difficult depending on the strength of the hands.

Grip strength measurements are easy to calculate, but they are sensitive enough to detect even the smallest of changes in hand strength, which makes them especially useful when tracking the progress of a patient going through physical therapy. It's also a reliable indicator of a greater risk of heart attack or stroke. In an international study, researchers found that an 11-pound decrease in grip strength is correlated to a 17 percent increased risk of cardiovascular death, a 7 percent increased risk of heart attack and a 9 percent increased risk of stroke.

Poorer grip strength has been associated with greater mortality from any cause among older adults in several different studies and is often used as a proxy for overall muscle strength. Surprisingly, exactly why a relationship exists between grip strength measures and better longevity is not well understood, although it may be linked to sarcopenia, or loss of muscle mass, which occurs with age.

It's important to recognize that poor grip strength is not necessarily representative of poor health. It is still unknown whether improving grip strength can help ward off age-related diseases like heart disease and cancer. Still, even just 10 minutes of physical activity each day is linked with avoiding disability, improving mobility and living longer.

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Article Sources

  • Catharine R Gale, Christopher N Martyn, Cyrus Cooper, and Avan Aihie Sayer. "Grip Strength, Body Composition, and Mortality." International Journal of Epidemiology 2007:36:228-235.
  • Janne Sallinen, Sari Stenholm, Taina Rantanen, Markku Heliövaara, Päivi Sainio, and Seppo Koskinen. "Hand-Grip Strength Cut-Points to Screen Older Persons at Risk for Mobility Limitation." J Am Geriatr Soc. 2010 Sep; 58(9): 1721–1726.