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

Bloated Hands Are Often Seen on Hot Weather Walks and Runs

Swollen Hands
Tobias Poel / EyeEm /Getty Images

Have you noticed your hands swelling when you go for a walk or run? Getting puffy fingers and bloated hands may make you wonder what causes this reaction and how you could prevent it.

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

When Do You Get Swollen Hands While Walking?

Long-distance walker Melanie Jonker questioned other walkers to see if they experienced swollen hands and how they dealt with the problem. 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. The good news is that no walker or their health care provider found this problem to be serious.

Why Your Hands Swell When You Walk or Run

  • Blood flow: When you go for a brisk walk or run 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 your 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 and runners.
  • 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. Your muscles in your arms and legs help assist the return of blood through the veins to the heat. If you aren't using your arm muscles, you will have a slower return of blood and it can pool in your hands.

Tips for Preventing and Treating Fat Fingers While Walking

Swollen hands are usually just one of the weird things that happen to your body when you go for a long walk. But you can take these suggestions compiled by Melanie Jonker, Dr. Edward R. Laskoswki, and Bonnie Stein.

  • Remove your rings and loosen any wristbands prior to a walk. If you have a lot of finger swelling, rings can become uncomfortably tight. Leave them safely at home. Loosen your wristwatch or fitness band strap.
  • Wear pulse detectors higher on your wrist: If your fitness band or smartwatch needs to be tight for detecting your heart rate, wear it higher on your wrist or forearm rather than at the narrowest part of your wrist.
  • Balance your 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.
  • Carry a walking stick and switch hands while you walk. This will increase the use of the muscles in your hands and arm and that might assist returning blood to your heart.
  • Carry a small object to grip lightly from time to time as you walk: a small foam pad, rubber ball, map, or flashlight. This also will work muscles and improve the return of blood to your heart.
  • Arm circles: Do an arm circle every few minutes, forward and backward. This will also help loosen up your shoulders and it's a good opportunity to check your walking posture.
  • 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.

Keep in mind that these solutions might not completely prevent swollen hands, as they are a normal thing that happens when you exercise, especially in warm or hot weather. Your body is trying to keep itself cool, and sending blood out to your fingers is one of the ways it does it. You can stay comfortable by not wearing rings or tight wristbands.

Other Causes of Hand Swelling

If your hand swelling is the normal swelling seen by most people when they walk or run, it will go away in a few minutes after you stop exercising and have cooled down completely. If your hands remain swollen for a longer time or if you have any pain, redness, or a weak grip, these are signs that need to be checked by your doctor.

You may have swelling due to cellulitis (an infection), nail infection, water retention, osteoarthritis, gout, pseudogout, carpal tunnel, and other processes. Of course, you can have sudden hand swelling due to insect bites and stings, poison ivy, sunburn, a hand injury, or a sudden flare of an infection. If only one hand is swollen, that can also be a sign that you need to see your doctor.

Swelling is also a side effect of some medications, such as those for high blood pressure, steroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, estrogens, and some diabetes medications.

A Word From Verywell

Swollen hands are a normal part of walking or running, so don't let fat fingers keep you from enjoying physical activity. But you may want to discuss this with your doctor, especially if you notice swelling continuing after exercise or if the swelling is only in one hand. If you are having normal hand swelling, have some fun doing hand exercises while you walk.

Sources:

Mayo Clinic. Edema.

Mayo Clinic. Edema: What Causes Hand Swelling During Exercise? December 2015.

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