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I’ve always been a fidgeter, someone who likes to be in a state of perpetual motion.
As a kid, I was a terrible nail biter, and to this day I do still partake in an occasional nibble. I jiggle my legs when I’m sitting. When at my desk, I used to play with a rubber band (rubber bands): stretch it, weave it, intertwined, across my fingertips, loop it over a single digit until it was so tight the tip would begin to turn purple.
Then I graduated to Blu Tack. I used the pliable, sticky stuff to put up notes on a wall for stories I was writing. But then I found it had another, far more valuable application as a plaything, something to mould (usually into a cube – sometimes a dice complete with numbered indents created with the tip of a pencil) and squeeze and twist and stretch. It was far more adaptable than any of the boring old, one-dimensional squeeze balls that I could never, truly, get into. And far more soothing.
The problem with Blu Tack is that it isn’t meant to be played with – it’s an adhesive for sticking things on to walls. When I started playing with it, it changed colour from its shiny ‘blu’ to a sort of murky-looking dark grey pretty quickly, and also pretty quickly it solidified, defeating the purpose of playing with it in the first place.
Blu Tack, I also discovered, is made from synthetic rubber. And unfortunately for me, I’m susceptible to contact dermatitis (thanks high-maintenance epidermis!), which, over time, developed in between my fingers.
Enter Autism, fast forward a handful of months, and, today, I can report that I am now a complete and utter convert to therapy putty.
What is therapy putty and why do I use it?
Therapy putty is Blu Tack on steroids. Think plasticine or Play-Doh (though there is a difference I learnt recently, and those products might also cause some people issues) only without any stickiness or oiliness (I can’t stand sticky or oily, so this is a massive tick for me).
Best of all, therapy putty is made to be handled and played with, not to stick things to walls, so I haven’t had a single adverse reaction to the therapy putty I use because it’s made from gorgeous silicone, not nasty rubber.
A lot of the different brands of therapy putty on the market, including the one that I use, come in different colours, each with their own level of resistance: yellow-extra soft, red-soft, green-medium, and blue-firm. (Though there are other colours and levels of resistance available, too!)
That’s because therapy putty is recommended by physical therapists, hand therapists, and occupational therapists as a rehabilitation tool for people recovering from finger, hand, and wrist injuries.
But that’s not why I use it…
I use it because it’s fun! 😊 And because it appeases that part of my brain that needs soothing. It helps me regulate my emotions, and it allows me to ‘fidget’ when I need to.
I can break a bit off and shape it (just like I used to with the Blu Tack!), I can stretch it, pinch it, knead it, or just squeeze the ever-loving hell out of it.
One of my favourite things to do with therapy putty is to empty the entire tub of the extra soft or the soft, and stretch it out with my fingers so that it’s flat, and then fold it over itself creating pockets of air between the layers, and then, as I continue stretching and folding and creating more layers, and more air, I revel in the incredibly satisfying pop! that accompanies the bursting bubbles that form in the putty as I continue stretching and folding and squeezing the putty between my hands.
Why should kids have all the fun anyway!
Who can benefit from using therapy putty?
As I’ve already alluded to, anyone, regardless of their age, can benefit from “using” 😉 therapy putty.
It’s the perfect sensory tool for us neurodivergent types who often need a little extra help regulating our emotions. But it’s also great for anyone looking to bring some extra calm and focus into their lives because you can use it like a versatile stress ball.
I use my therapy putty in almost every session I have with my psychologist, or any other meeting I have online, because it helps me relax when I’m discussing difficult issues or if I feel a little tense. (I can almost feel my wife thinking that I should really have it in my pocket at all times! 😁)
I also use my therapy putty when I’m watching TV, or sometimes when I’m sitting at my computer writing, waiting for the “magic” to happen. 😆
For children who aren’t neurodivergent, it has the benefit of helping develop dexterity and fine motor skills. It can also simply be something to play with, as an alternative to plasticine or Play-Doh (which as I’ve already mentioned can cause allergic reactions in some people), because it doesn’t leave the messy residue on their hands that other types of putty do.
And finally, because therapy putty’s origins lie in physical therapy, it’s a great tool to use as part of your rehabilitation, or as a way to improve grip strength, a biomarker of health outcomes as we get older.
Anyone who’s ever suffered any sort of hand, finger, or wrist injury, or who lives with a circulatory hand issue, or a condition like carpal tunnel or any other type of nerve injury, or even hand or wrist arthritis, will benefit greatly from a daily squeeze of some therapy putty.
Using therapy putty for hand exercises
A lot of people, my wife included, have hand or wrist pain from a past injury. My wife even had surgery to try and alleviate the pain she has in her hand, but to no avail.
Now, she uses therapy putty. Not only because it helps strengthen the wrist that she injured in the gym more than a decade ago, but because using therapy putty promotes circulation to the area and improves the dexterity of that particular hand and forearm.
As I mentioned earlier, therapy putty comes in packs with a range of resistances, so you can choose the one that’s right for your specific needs and whatever you find most comfortable.
If you are thinking of buying therapy putty to do hand exercises, I recommend searching online using the term ‘therapy putty hand exercises’. That way you’ll discover all the information you need, including diagrams that show how to correctly work with your therapy putty, and videos that step you through a variety of exercises as well.
How long does therapy putty last?
My therapy putty is more than six months old and still going strong. I’ve read online that some putties can last for years “with the right care”.
I’m not sure what “with the right care” really means – it isn’t a house plant – but mine is holding up well so I’ll tell you what I do.
- I make sure my hands are (relatively) clean when I use my therapy putty.
- I don’t use it on any gritty or grimy surfaces.
- I always put it immediately back into the plastic storage container it came in, with the lid on, and I always leave it there.
- I keep it out of any direct sun.
That’s it. Nothing special really. And, as I say, it’s still in excellent condition.
I have read that some people wash their therapy putty because, over time, some of the natural oils from a person’s skin can begin to transfer to the putty, especially in humid environments like Brisbane, where I live. But I haven’t been brave enough to try that yet. If I do though, I’ll make sure to update this post with the results.
I also understand, from my reading (because I haven’t actually done this myself), that if you accidentally leave your therapy putty out of its container, it won’t ruin it, which is good news.
I can assure you though that the container it comes in is the best place to store it if you want to ensure it lasts as long as it can. Mine is holding up so well in fact that it’s almost still in its original condition after six months of pretty solid playtime, ah…usage!
And if the container you bought your therapy putty in gets damaged, or you lose it, you can store it in any new airtight plastic container you have.
The final word on therapy putty
Therapy putty has become my go to sensory ‘fidget toy’ because I find it fun to use, and because it has so many different applications.
I started with the pack of four because overall it presents the best value and allows you to work out which resistances (remember the different colours equal a different level of resistance) suit you best, and what you want to use your putty for.
My plan though is that when I do eventually need to buy more therapy putty, I’ll only buy it in single packs, like this one, for the resistance level I like to use the most. For me, that’ll probably be the soft and the medium.
It does work out to be a little more expensive per container of putty, but if you’re only going to buy one or two containers, then you end up saving money in the end.
And if Blu Tack’s your thing (and why wouldn’t it be!) you can always pick some of that up, too. But only if it’s for putting things up on walls.
*No therapy putty was harmed during the writing of this blog piece. Although I did squeeze the life out of some of it – just to help me get this done.