Baoding balls, also known as Chinese health balls, meditation, medicine or exercise balls are a set of metal balls, usually made from steel, that fit in the palm of the hand. Inside is a metal spiral and a ball bearing which chimes when the bearing touches the spiral. We call them musical stress balls.

Chinese acupressure therapy assigns a range of health benefits to them, like increased circulation and functioning of the nervous system as they massage the numerous accupressure points in the hands. I value them for their simplicity, beauty, affordability and as a fidgeter with hand issues, I find them both calming and helpful to increase fine motor control, muscle strength in my hands and a lot more entertaining than the repetition of basic sets of hand physiotherapy.

Most Baoding sets are made from low grade steel commonly used in costume jewellery, which does contain nickel. Steel doesn’t usually cause a reaction in those with a nickel allergy, unless it is nickel plated, but this is common in many of the undecorated sets. The cloisonné enameled sets are a better choice. Nickel is not generally used in the process and the enamel can provide a protective barrier. Alternatively, wear gloves when using them.

The size of the ball determines how difficult it is to use. Select a small diameter, 1.9 inches (48mm) or smaller for beginners. The first basic exercise is rolling both balls clockwise and counter-clockwise maintaining constant contact. Increase the speed with improvement. Once a smooth, fast roll can be done, the balls will separate, which leads to the second, more advanced exercise – roll the balls without allowing them to touch (the index finger is used as a divider).

Silver set of baoding balls held in one hand

They can also be used creatively, roll them backwards and forwards, parallel or lined up. Use them to strengthen individual fingers, which can help a lot with learning a new instrument like playing the piano, where finger strength is vital or focus on the chime and move them to make a pleasant sound.

Most sets are small enough to be a choking hazard for under 3’s, but they can be used by children, adults and older adults alike, to developed and maintain good flexibility and function in the muscles of the hand. Good for fidgeting, increasing tolerance of pressure and sensation in the palms of the hands for anyone with sensory overload problems and enhancing localised proprioception.

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This article was first published on 19 January 2016.