Grip strength is a measure of muscular strength or maximum force generated by the muscles in the forearm. This measure can be used to assess the stability of the muscles in the shoulder that help move our arm away from the centre of the body. One thing we often do not think about is that grip is not just about your hand strength.
It involves everything from the muscles near the elbow, all the way down into your hands and fingertips. During gripping activities (such as opening a jar, carrying groceries), most muscles you are using originate between the elbow and the forearm.
Did you know? There are a total of 35 muscles involved in the forearm and hand when we grip!
Risk factors for decreased grip strength
There are several known age changes that contribute to a loss of grip strength with age. These include chronic diseases, osteoarthritis of the hand, decreased levels of physical activity and changes to the ageing muscles itself.
For women, risk factors tend to be more lifestyle related (e.g. smoking and stress), whereas for men more physically related factors (e.g. decreased physical activity and chronic illness). Other risk factors may include age, smoking status, pain, and sensory loss in the wrist/elbow.
Why is grip strength so important?
- It is thought that there is something called ‘anticipatory stability’ in the upper limb when we grip. Basically, your brain knows that when you need to grip or pick something up to turn on the muscles of the shoulder for the arm to function properly and to avoid injury.
- A firm and proper grip increases ‘neural drive’ throughout the body. This translates to increased preparation for movement execution. This anticipatory mechanism is an adaptation in which the nervous system is more effectively communicating to the muscles and is able to produce greater force.
- Proper gripping technique activates the rotator cuff muscle group of the shoulder; therefore, providing a functional assessment of these stabilizing muscles.
What can I do to help my grip strength?
Don’t fear! There have been many research studies that have proven that physical training and exercise can benefit our grip strength. A specific study has shown that specified physical training has shown to increase grip strength in older subjects. Some of the benefits of improving your grip strength include:
- Reducing the risk of overall mortality
- Injury prevention
- Improving your ability to complete activities of daily living
- Improving confidence
- Increased shoulder stability. Studies comment that there is a positive correlation with improved shoulder stability and grip strength