If you’ve ever had that feeling of your skin being too tight on your fingers, then you know the weird sensation when hands swell while walking. Which always leads us to wonder WHY?
And better yet, how can we stop it.
Because I don’t love the feeling of not being able to pull my ring off, even if I know it will go away.
Hand Swelling During Exercise
Why do hands swell while walking? There are a few common things that might be the culprit and most are not anything to worry about, but more a result of simply how our bodies react to the movement.
Unfortunately, though it’s a common problem, there are very few true scientific studies that have looked at this because it’s not usually considered a major medical issue. In most cases it’s not treatable by medication, but rather a few modifications in exercise.
But it’s darn uncomfortable! So let’s see what might be happening and anything you can do to help.
Increased Blood Flow
Whether we are walking, hiking or running our heart is going to start pumping more blood out to our muscles to provide them with oxygen and energy.
Our body also starts thinking about what areas don’t need as much help…like your hands! It’s the same reason that runners might be out in shorts, but still need running gloves because their fingers are numb.
The body is remarkable about conserving energy and focusing blood flow to the muscles that are performing the majority of the work.
When the temperature increases, your body tries to cool itself by pushing more blood close to the surface where it can release heat. The same reason your face gets red and flushed during summer workouts.
The blood vessels actually expand to accept the increased blood flow and that could result in your hands swelling while walking.
This can happen from a few different things, but one we are hearing more about is hyponatremia. Where in fact you have low sodium levels, often due to drinking too much water!
That’s right you need to learn to hydrate the right way. Too many recommendations were leading endurance athletes to be over hydrated, which actually flushes the body of electrolytes while you’re also sweating them out.
Other signs of hyponatremia:
- muscle cramps or weakness
If any of these are happening during your exercise, you need to stop and seek immediate medical attention.
The flip side of this is consuming too much salt, which also causes swelling in lots of places in the body. If it’s an occasional thing then it’s just bloating, but frequent overdoing leads to high blood pressure and yup swelling frequently.
What Medical Conditions Cause Hand Swelling?
There are a few instances where hand swelling could be a sign of something else, but that is usually not the case when talking about it during exercise.
If you are noticing it outside of running or it’s simply staying around for an extremely long time after exercise, then pay attention to additional symptoms:
- Fever, chills
- Redness or a rash
- Painful and tender, swelling in to the wrist
The most expected cause would be trauma to the hand and a broken bone, but I’m guessing you’ll know if that happens. 🙂 So outside of that it might be more prevalent when pregnant or an early sign of a type of arthritis.
It’s absolutely possible to run with rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis, we’ve helped runners through both. But again, it does mean knowing your body and paying attention to if this is becoming a chronic or painful issue.
How to Prevent Hand Swelling?
All right now we know some of the main causes, so is there anything we can change or do differently to help our hands?
We know that elevating our hands will help with swelling, so some people notice that if they start to walk with their arms bent at 90 degrees this helps.
Rather than having arms hanging down to the sides where the blood could pool as the vessels expand, this could help with moving it back in to the arms.
One way to easily do this during a long hike is to use poles. It will also give your hands something to do, which might help the system push blood away and back. It’s now realizing those muscles are being used as well.
*You can also raise your hands over your head occasionally, to increase that elevation and change the arm movement.
Improve Blood Flow
While these tips won’t completely resolve the issue they can help prevent that painful sausage fingers feeling.
If you can improve blood flow it will help prevent that fluid retention.
- remove all rings and bracelets
- loosen watchband
- check your backpack shoulder straps to ensure they aren’t too tight (hiking or hydration pack)
These things might not be enough to fully prevent hands swelling while walking, but they can help. And of course seek out a doctor if you’re concerned about other symptoms to rule out any other issues.
That’s right sipping an electrolyte drink during hot or long duration exercise isn’t just for the marathon, it’s helpful year round.
I actually sip on electrolyte fluids throughout the week when I’ve been sweating a lot. It also makes water just a little sweeter, which we’ve found helps people drink more and stay hydrated.
Cooler Environment Exercise
If it’s gotten too hot outside, time to move your workout indoors or even too the pool. If you’ve been having a lot of trouble with hand swelling during exercise and it’s causing you pain, then don’t just pus through!
Find alternatives that give you an option to exercise in a cooler environment.
- Avoid going in the heat of the day
- Do arm circles during the walk to change the blood flow
- Move indoors where there is air conditioning
- Wear an ice towel or ice hat, anything that helps keep body temperature down
These things are going to help with the blood vessels not expanding so much to release heat.
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