Why Are My Fingers and Toes Swollen After Running?

sweaty runners
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"My fingers look like sausages after a long run. Why does that happen and what can I do about it?"

It's common for runners to have swollen fingers and toes after a long run, especially when running in warm weather. One reason for swollen fingers and toes after running is an electrolyte imbalance. The salt in your blood must be kept in balance to prevent swelling in your tissues. So if you lose too much salt (through sweat) or you have too much salt in your diet, you may notice swelling in your extremities first.

To prevent swollen fingers and toes, you should make sure you replace the sodium you're losing through sweat by drinking sports drinks, consuming sports nutrition such as gels, doing a salt shot, or eating salty snacks, such as pretzels, during your long runs.

Don't Drink Too Much Water

In rare cases, extreme swelling of your hands and feet during a marathon or long run may be a sign of hyponatremia, which can result from drinking excessive amounts of water, causing a low concentration of sodium in the blood. Other signs of hyponatremia are nausea and vomiting. Hydrating properly with water (4 to 6 ounces every 20 minutes) during runs and consuming sports drinks during long runs are key to maintaining electrolyte balance.

Other Explanations of Swollen Fingers and Toes

Another explanation is that your blood flow increases while you're running, but some of the excess fluid may accumulate in your hands and feet and then has to travel against gravity.

If you've noticed swollen fingers or toes during or after your runs, may want to remove your rings, loosen your running watch, and make sure your running shoes are not too tight before you start running. Swinging your arms in circles occasionally during your runs and stretching your fingers and then making fists several times to get the blood flowing may help.

If you're noticing that your toes are always very swollen after runs, your running shoes may be too tight. Make sure you're wearing running shoes that are at least half a size bigger than your street shoe size.

If you've ruled out the above causes of your swollen fingers or toes, consult your health care professional to determine other possible explanations.

Source: "How Much Water is Too Much Water?" American Council on Exercise, accessed 2/21/13

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