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

We've all experienced it - your hands swelling when you go on a walk. Sometimes it is worse than other times - puffy, bloated hands. Why? And how to prevent it?

Our correspondent Melanie Jonker questioned several walking-related mailgroups about this problem to get theories on causes and how walkers dealt with the problem. The good news is that no walker or their health care provider found this problem to be serious and it always went away soon after completing the walk.

If your hand swelling doesn't subside soon after the walk, you should consider consulting your health provider.

Theories on Causes

Weather:

  • Many walkers say long walks in warm weather lead to hand swelling.
  • Some walkers reported the problem more often in cool weather.
  • Some walkers thought that higher altitude contributed to more swelling.

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, you 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.
Drinking Guidelines for Distance Walkers

Arm Motion (or lack of it): There is some debate on whether certain types of arm motion force more fluid into the hands by "centrifugal force." 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.

Racewalking coach Bonnie Stein of Acewalker.com describes "blood pooling." Our leg muscles are working hard during a walk and help return blood from the lower body. Despite this, your feet still swell as much as a full shoe size during a long walk. The arm muscles are smaller and in less use when walking, so they don't help as much in returning blood from the hands.

This may lead to the swelling.

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 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. .
    Drinking Guidelines for Distance Walkers

    Back > Causes of Swollen Hands

    Source: Melanie Jonker, originally published 04/19/1998

    Reference: Bonnie Stein M.Ed. is a racewalking instructor and Certified Personal Training Specialist based in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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