Why Do You Get Swollen Hands and Fat Fingers When You Walk?

Walkers Wonder About Bloated Hands and Feet

Swollen Hand at End of 13 Mile Walk
Swollen Hand at End of 13 Mile Walk. Wendy Bumgardner

Have you noticed your hands swelling when you go for a walk or run? Sometimes it is worse than other times and you get puffy and bloated hands. Why does this happen? How can you prevent it?

Swollen hands are commonly experienced by walkers and runners in hot weather. It typically goes away soon after completing your workout. If your hand swelling doesn't subside soon after the walk, you should consider consulting your health provider.

Theories on Causes of Swollen Hands When Walking

Walkers were questioned by long-distance walker Melanie Jonker to see if they experienced the problem and how they dealt with it. The good news is that no walker or their health care provider found this problem to be serious.

Weather: Many walkers reported more hand swelling during long walks in warm weather, although some have the problem in cool weather. Some also thought they had more hand swelling at higher altitude.

Blood flow: When you go for a brisk walk on a cold day, you probably notice that your hands start off cold but they warm up as you exercise and raise your heart rate. Your increased heart rate sends more blood out to your extremities. As you produce more internal heat from exercise you need to perspire to keep from overheating. Your hands and feet are part of this system, and so there is more blood flow out to the capillaries, which can mean that your fingers and hands swell.

Your feet swell as much as a full shoe size during a long walk or run, so it isn't surprising that your hands also swell.

Electrolyte imbalance: Electrolytes are the salts in your bloodstream, which must be kept in balance to prevent swelling in the tissues (edema). When you sweat, you lose salt. When you eat too much salt, your body has to work to balance it with more fluid.

Either way, you may have​ swelling. Appropriate use of a sports drink that replaces electrolytes, as well as taking in the right volume of fluid (not too much, not too little) are key to maintaining electrolyte balance. Follow the drinking guidelines for fitness walkers.

Arm motion (or lack of it): There is some debate on whether certain types of arm motion force more fluid into the hands. Walking with your hands constantly below your heart makes it more difficult for the circulatory system to return your blood flow back from your hands.

Tips for Preventing and Treating Fat Fingers While Walking

Melanie Jonker received these suggestions to combat swollen hands when walking:

  • Remove your rings prior to a walk. Loosen your wristwatch or fitness band strap and elastic sleeves.
  • Carry a walking stick and switch hands while you walk.
  • Carry a small object to grip lightly from time to time as you walk: a small foam pad, rubber ball, map, or flashlight.
  • Arm circles: Do an arm circle every few minutes.
  • Don't clench your hands, keep them relaxed and slightly open. Every so often, stretch all of your fingers out for a few seconds and then make a fist. Repeat this several times. Or sort of "play the piano or accordion," with your fingers only.
  • Use correct arm motion: Racewalking coach Bonnie Stein of Acewalker.com recommends using correct arm motion with your arm bent at almost a 90-degree angle and swinging back and forth from a relaxed shoulder, rather than opening and closing the arm at the elbow.
  • Play stick-em-up: rest your hands on top of your head for a few seconds to get them above the level of your heart.
  • Balance water and salt intake: You lose both water and salt when you sweat. Drink sports drink after the first hour when walking and sweating. When possible, weigh yourself before, during, and after your walk so you can see whether you are drinking too much or too little. Your weight should remain the same. For endurance walks, follow the marathon/half marathon drinking guidelines.

    Sources:

    Bonnie Stein M.Ed. Racewalking instructor and Certified Personal Training Specialist.

    Edema what causes hand swelling during exercise? Mayoclinic. December 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/expert-answers/hand-swelling/faq-20058255. 

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