What are Flextend Gloves?
The Flextend glove is a patented device that is used for strengthening the extensor muscles of the hand. Rings are attached to the fingers on the glove and a length of elastic tubing is threaded through the rings and attached to a band around the arm. The tension on the tubing is fully adjustable.
The manufacturer's website is here: www.repetitive-strain.com.
The gloves cost $150.00 a pair. They can be purchased separately (left or right hand). They carry a 30-day money-back guarantee and a 1-year warranty. Many insurance companies will cover these gloves. Balance Systems, the manufacturer, has in-house clinicians available to assist customers by phone. Balance Systems has also extended an offer of a 25% discount to readers of this webpage. For this discount, call them at 1-888-274-5444 and refer to Sales Code TS250. NOTE: I do not recieve any compensation for this. I have no connection to the company or product and make no endorsement. I am happy to be able to pass this discount along to anyone who may be interested in ordering the gloves.
What do the Flextend Gloves do?
The Flextend gloves are simply a way to exercise the muscles that open the hands and fingers. These muscles are called extensors and are mainly located in the forearm. As these muscles near the wrist, they become tendons, which run along the tops of the fingers, attaching at various points. The muscles that close the hands and fingers are called flexors. These are also located in the forearms and also turn into tendons as they near the wrist. The flexors pass through the carpal tunnel on the underside of the wrist and then run along the lengths of the insides of the fingers.
There are many ways to exercise the flexors and extensors of the hands. The extensors are not as easy to exercise as the flexors. They are also not as strong and also not used as heavily as the flexors in daily activities. The extensor muscles are kind of overlooked in exercise programs. So it can make sense to pay some attention to strengthening the extensors when working to restore health to the hands.
I may not be fully qualified to discuss the importance and effects of exercising the extensor muscles and I'm not sure that anyone completely understands all aspects of repetitive strain injury. But there seems to be some theory that strengthening the extensors can help to regulate tension in the hand muscles. This may have some effect on tension and strength in both the extensors and flexors. I have come to believe that strengthening is just as important as stretching and massage in recovering from problems such as repetitive strain injuries. It may be just as important to work on the flexor muscles - both stretching and strengthening them. The Flextend gloves do not work directly on the flexor muscles - they are specifically for exercising the extensors. My best recommendation for strengthening the flexors is to use spring-tension grip trainers. These are commonly available for just a few dollars. They vary a lot in how hard they are to squeeze. I suggest using the lightest tension grippers you can find - and work carefully with them - especially at first.
One thing I am sure of is that in a healthy human body all muscles are properly balanced against each other and are free of chronic tension.
I was looking at the reviews on Amazon.com for Sharon Butler's book and one of the reviewers said that he had fixed his hand problems by using Sharon's stretches along with Bonnie Pruden's trigger point massage techniques and some strengthening exercises, especially for the "muscles that open the hands". He gave no other details. It has always seemed to me that strengthening the hand muscles would be helpful. In looking over the Sorehand mailing list archives, I came across a discussion of flexors/extensors. It was pointed out that the extensors don't necessarily have to be as strong as the flexors in order for these muscles to be balanced. The human body is designed to do a lot of hand/finger flexing and there is not much need for strength in hand/finger extension.
My Experience with the Flextend Gloves
I found out about these gloves about nine months into my ordeal with hand problems. By this time I was trying everything. I was desperate but a bit reluctant to order them since they cost $150.00 a pair and I am not wealthy. Well the gloves arrived quickly and they looked to have about the quality I was expecting. They may not be made to last forever (nothing is) but they seemed like they were well-made would last a while. And they have a one-year warranty. A booklet and a video are included. These explain a recommended program of exercise to follow which seems very sensible, gradually increasing sets, reps, days, types of exercise, resistance of rubber tubing. I rigged them up and tried them out and they seemed like about what I was expecting, a very good way to exercise the extensors.
I think I tended to overdo the gloves at first. They are very clear in the instructions that you should begin gradually, using only the basic exercise and just every other day for awhile. Since your extensors have probably not ever been exercised in this way, it probably is very important (especially if having RSI problems) to be careful at first. I found that I was not following the program and tending to experiment quite a bit. I think this is actually good as long as you work up to it gradually.
I have worked with the Flextend gloves only sporadically over the last couple of years, so I cannot speak from lots of experience. I am still very interested in working with the gloves and other methods of strengthening.
The only real flaw I found in the construction of the gloves was that the rubber tubing was catching on the rings. This seems to be quite an engineering problem and the manufacturer has tried various options. I later found I could reduce this problem by applying some lubricaton to the tubing. Since my initial purchase in 2001, they have changed to a different type of tubing which should solve this problem.
I also reported on a previous version of this page that the tubing supplied was a bit short for taller people. This has since been remedied by supplying longer lengths.
Some Alternatives to the Flextend Gloves
Although these gloves seem to be about the most effective tool for exercising the extensors, there are many other ways to do this. So if you don't want to purchase these gloves or can't afford them, you can still achieve the same results. I am strongly committed to self-healing and I think that people can heal themselves of many conditions (including repetitive strain injuries) without spending money on doctors, medicine, or devices (though any of these things can be useful tools).
While waiting for the gloves I thought of several possible alternatives for exercising the extensors. I was reading a book called The Manual of Self Healing by Meir Schneider and he mentioned that exercises performed under water are doubly effective. Well, I decided to try this. I got into the bathtub and practiced opening and closing the fingers. This is a good exercise to do anyway, but underwater, a small (but detectable) amount of resistance is added. This seemed like a good thing. You could also just stick your hand in a bucket of water. Or you could be in a swimming pool.
Also, there are lots of possibilities with isometric exercises, pushing fingers against the fingers of the other hand or against the thumb.
Make rings with the thumb and one finger, like pressing the pad of the thumb onto the nail of the index finger (like an OK sign). You can do this with each finger. And then you can go through them again pressing the thumb onto the second phalange of each finger, that is, below the first joint. And you could also even go up to the next joint, which is kind of an interesting stretch.
Lie down on your back with your arms straight out to your sides, backs of the hands on the ground, and start to press up with the ends of your fingers. You can even isolate one or more fingers. Or kind of make it so you are exercising the wrist more.
Close one hand into a fist. Then wrap the other hand over it, finger on finger, and try to open the inside fingers against the outside ones.
Press one hand palm down onto a table. Put the other hand over it, finger on finger. Then press up with the lower fingers while pressing down with the upper fingers. You can do them all at once or isolate them.
For hand/wrist extension, put your arms out in front of you with palms together. Put a rubber band around all eight fingers (not the thumbs). Then open the hands away from each other, pivoting at the wrist.
And then there's rubber bands. Just experiment with various sizes of rubber bands around the thumb and one or more fingers. You'll see this idea in lots of books on RSI and arthritis. There are some things that the gloves can do that you probably can't really do any other way, but you can do a lot with rubber bands. There is also a product called Thera-band, which is used in physical therapy. This is rubber tubing that is available in lots of different sizes. More info here: Thera-Band.com
And then there's the approach of "duplicating" the gloves. A really crafty person could maybe sew some hooks onto some gloves and make their own. (There are lots of pictures of the gloves on the websites that sell them). I'm sure for most people it would be easier to just buy the gloves if you want to try the glove approach. Or there may be ways to do pretty much the same thing but without the gloves - like rigging up some kind of bands to fit on the fingers, which would have hooks on them to attach elastic bands.
After the gloves arrived, it ocurred to me that I had a catalog of hand therapy products from a medical supplier and that I had not looked at it for a while. Surely there must be some devices for exercising finger extension that would be used by physical therapists. Well the only thing in the catalog was a device (costing $208.00) that basically just has your hand resting with fingers hanging over the edge with weights attached to them. So you're kind of doing little finger lifts. It seems like the Flextend gloves will do the equivalent plus more. But this is also another idea for making something yourself. The Flextend also strengthens the wrist extensors and this catalog also had a similar device for that, wrist hangs over the edge with weight attached. Also there was sort of a glove with a weight attached. It looked like the Flextend gloves were a better idea than any of these devices for exercising extensor muscles of the hands.
There are also a couple of other hand extensor exercising devices I have found.
One is the Wristiciser ($75.00).
I have not yet obtained or tried this. Looks interesting
Another is the Cats Paw ($9.99). See www.catspaw.com. I got one of these. This seems like something you could easily make, and is just a way of facilitating isometric exercises as described above.
There are many ways to strengthen the extensor muscles of the hands and there is no need to purchase any equipment for this. But among all of the various ways that you can work on strengthening the extensor muscles of the hands, the Flextend gloves are best device I have seen for accomplishing this in a controlled and convenient way.
Though I don't feel that I am qualified at this time to really judge the importance of strengthening the extensor muscles of the hands in solving upper body RSI problems, it does seem like an avenue worth exploring. I suspect that this can be very valuable, but I tend to think that this would best be part of an overall program involving stretching, strengthening and massage. I would not expect the Flextend gloves to be some kind of "miracle cure" (though they may be just the thing for some cases).
While it may be a very good thing to strengthen the extensors, and I think that strengthening in general is overlooked in many approaches to RSI, I suspect that stretching and massage should be the first things to work on, with strengthening being added later - very carefully and gradually. My top recommendation is careful, gentle, focused stretching as described in Sharon Butler's book, Conquering Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Other Repetitive Strain Injuries. I also highly recommend Pain Free by Pete Egoscue. He will tell you how to "reengineer" your musculoskeletal system. A couple of excellent yoga books are ExtTension and Recovery Yoga both by Sam Dworkis. Also Feldenkrais is very interesting. For self-massage, I recommend the Armaid, though you can acomplish the same thing without any devices.
I am committed to self-healing and I think it is important to keep learning,
keep an open mind, be creative, explore and keep the faith. Don't just go
through the motions of various exercises - figure it out, feel it.
Back to My Hands Page Revised 03/17/03.