When you walk or run, have you ever noticed your fingers getting puffy? This happens to a lot of people and it can be pretty confusing.
In this article, we’re going to look at why this happens. We’ll talk about how exercise makes your blood flow differently and can change your body heat and water levels, making your fingers swell up.
Don’t worry, though! We’ll also give you some easy tips and ways to stop this from happening so much. This is helpful whether you’re really into sports or just like to go for walks now and then.
Is It Common for Fingers to Swell When You Walk or Run?
Hand and finger swelling during exercise is more common than you might think. Sometimes, it’s pretty noticeable, but other times, you might only realize your hands are swollen because you’re wearing a ring, and it’s hard to get off after your run.
Because it’s sometimes not very noticeable, research on the topic is scarce. It’s hard to say just how common finger swelling is—but if you ask a runner, chances are they’ll have had their own experience with swollen fingers and hands.
What Causes Your Fingers to Swell When You Walk or Run?
Swollen fingers during or after a walk or run can have several root causes. Figure out what’s behind it, and you’re halfway to solving the problem!
Increased/Decreased Blood Flow
Whether walking or running, your heart pumps harder during exercise so your muscles can get needed oxygen. As it pumps blood more forcefully around your body, the circulation in your limbs might increase, causing slight swelling.
On the other hand, when your muscles work hard, your body might divert blood from your extremities—i.e. your hands—to the working muscles. In this case, a lack of circulation through your fingers could lead to swelling, as the cells in your hands fill with fluid, trying to compensate for the reduced blood flow.
Hydration and Electrolytes
Staying hydrated is vital during any type of exercise. However, hydrating without considering electrolyte balance can have negative consequences, including swelling of your hands and fingers.
Your body has a delicate balance of water, sodium, potassium, chloride, and other minerals. If you drink too much water and don’t replace those electrolytes, that balance can be upended, causing chaos in the body.
This fluid/electrolyte imbalance can cause fluid to accumulate in your fingers as your body tries to shed excess water to balance the scales again. If you’re walking or running for more than an hour at a time, we recommend taking an electrolyte tablet to prevent this from happening.
Your fingers may swell as a natural response to your body trying to regulate its temperature. In cold weather, your body naturally draws blood toward your core to maintain a healthy core temperature, which draws blood away from your fingers, causing fluid to accumulate in the cells around the blood vessels.
In the heat, your body increases circulation on the surface of the body to try and let go of excess heat. The blood vessels in your fingers dilate to allow more blood in, which may cause your fingers to “swell.”
Motion of Your Arm Swing
One of the theories is that a vigorous arm swing can make hand and finger swelling worse! Just like fluid can pool in your feet after many hours of standing still, fluid can pool in your hands when walking.
It’s thought that a vigorous arm swing may force lymphatic fluid and blood more forcefully into your hands while you’re walking or running, and the movement of your arms may prevent it from recirculating by gravity.
How to Ease Discomfort and Reduce Swelling on the Go
Experiencing hand or finger swelling in the middle of a run? Try these tips to help ease it up and get your hands feeling normal again.
Raise Your Hands
Elevating your hands above the level of your heart can help excess fluid drain away instead of pooling in your hands. It might look strange, but a few minutes can make a big difference.
Open and Close Your Fists
Pumping your fists can help to encourage fluid to move through the tissues and reduce the swelling in your fingers. It stimulates circulation, and it’s easy and not conspicuous to do while you’re moving.
Shake Your Hands
You can also give your hands a good shake while you’re running. Don’t shake too hard, but vigorously enough to get the blood flowing and encourage any accumulated fluid to dissipate.
Adjust Your Grip
If you’re holding a water bottle or a phone, the pressure on certain parts of your hand may restrict blood flow and contribute to the swelling. Adjust your grip or, better yet, use a running hydration belt or phone armband to go hands-free.
Change Your Arm Position
You may want to experiment with your arm position to see if it affects how your hands feel. Try bending your elbows a little more or letting your arms hang more loosely. See if it makes a difference to your blood flow.
Don’t forget to drink! Carry enough water to cover you for your walk or run, and sip on it consistently.
How to Prevent Swollen Fingers When You Run or Walk
If you struggle with swollen fingers when you run or walk, try some of these ideas to prevent it or reduce its effect.
Remove Rings and Accessories
Anything that fits tightly on your hand can exacerbate the problem. Rings, bracelets, watches, gloves, and anything else should be removed before you head out for your run or walk.
This might not alleviate the swelling completely, but if your fingers do swell, it’s likely to be not nearly as bad as usual with an unrestricted blood flow.
Consider the Time of Day You Walk or Run
It may be a good idea to experiment with what time of day you run or walk. Have you been walking or running during the hotter part of the day? Or is it cold when you go?
The temperature can have an impact, and the time of day can influence the temperature. If you’re used to going at midday, try going in the evenings and see if it makes a difference.
Check Your Salt Intake
Just like too much water can skew your electrolyte balance, too much salt in your diet can do the same. If your body perceives too much sodium, it retains water to balance those scales.
This water can be stored in your hands and feet. Cutting back on sodium can fix this issue, so try this first if you eat a particularly high-sodium diet. Avoiding processed or canned foods is a good first step.
Try Compression Sleeves
Wearing compression arm sleeves while you run or walk can help to improve the circulation in your arms going into your hands. You may be able to find compression gloves too, which will stimulate blood flow in your hands.
If poor circulation is your problem, this can help reduce the swelling. It has the secondary bonus of protecting you from the sun or keeping you a little warmer in cold weather.
Stretch Your Hands and Fingers
Stretch your hands and fingers before you go for a run. This will get the blood flowing, just like doing a warm-up for your leg muscles. Spend a few minutes on this and it might make a difference to your blood flow.
Ensure You’re Well-Hydrated Before You Start
Start your walk/run well-hydrated. Ensure you have an electrolyte tablet in your pocket and take it after an hour of exercise. Get ahead of fluid/electrolyte imbalance before you even start the run!
Of course, you still need to replenish fluids throughout the run, but starting off hydrated can help you avoid possible imbalance problems later on.