Have you noticed that your hands swell when walking? Exercise generally makes us feel good, but it can be concerning when your hands feel stiff and swollen.
Nobody wants to have swollen hands, even if you don’t wear a ring or a watch. We use our hands for everything! When they’re swollen on a run, it can make it difficult to handle your water bottle, tie your shoelaces, or check the time.
It can also make you worry if something may be wrong. We will explain the most common reason your hands swell while walking, other potential reasons, how to prevent or reduce the swelling, and when you should see a doctor.
Why Do My Hands Swell When Walking?
If your fingers or hands swell when walking, you’re not alone. About 25 percent of people experience this!
There are a number of reasons that could be causing your hands to swell while you’re walking, including:
Changes In Blood Flow
When you exercise, the ways the blood flows through your body changes from how it flows when you’re at rest.
Your leg muscles, glutes, core, lungs, and heart do more work than usual. This means that blood flow is increased to those areas in order to bring oxygen to them for use during exercise.
However, that leaves less blood flowing to the hands and feet. This can cause the blood vessels in your hands to expand, attempting to get some heat from the external environment to the hands to increase blood flow.
In some cases, the same phenomenon can occur when there’s too much heat in the hands.
When the body produces heat as you exercise, it begins to push the blood towards the blood vessels closest to the skin in an attempt to allow the heat to escape. This can also cause your hands to swell.
These sound like opposites—is there too little blood flow or more blood flow than normal near the skin? Cold hands or warm hands?
It can be hard to tell which one is behind your hands swelling while you walk, but if you feel tingling, numbness, cold, or unusual heat in your hands at the same time, this could be the reason.
This often happens when walking in weather that’s unusually hot or cold.
Arm Swing Movement
The motion of swinging your arms as you walk can also contribute to swelling in your hands. If you swing your arms quite vigorously when you walk, the motion—and gravity—may push blood and lymphatic fluid into your hands.
This accumulates in the hands as the heart can’t work hard enough to provide oxygen-rich blood to the muscles and fight against gravity to regain the fluid.
This leads to swelling. When you stop exercising, the swelling usually goes down quickly as the heart can now work hard enough to circulate the fluid easily again.
Fluid and Electrolyte Imbalances
There are two ways in which your fluid and electrolytes could become unbalanced. One, drinking too much water without replenishing electrolytes, and two, eating too much salt.
If you drink too much water while running, you could inadvertently throw your body’s sodium levels off by sweating out important electrolytes.
If you aren’t replacing these electrolytes as you drink, you’ll quickly develop a build-up of fluid, which can accumulate in the hands.
This condition is known as hyponatremia, and may also include symptoms like confusion, a headache, and muscle weakness or cramping.
The opposite of this is called hypernatremia, which occurs when you have a diet that’s too high in salt.
If you consume too much salt, it begins to affect your kidneys’ filtration process. This makes it more difficult for the kidneys to filter unnecessary fluid, so the fluid collects in the body’s tissues. This may include the hands.
While you never know when you’ll suffer from swollen hands while walking, you can take some measures to try and prevent it.
Prepare Before Your Walk
If you often struggle with swollen hands while walking, make sure to loosen your watch band and take off any rings or bracelets before you walk.
This will lower the discomfort and help to reduce pain if your hands swell when walking, as well as possibly preventing worse damage due to cut-off circulation.
Stretch Your Arms & Hands During Your Walk
Stretching your hands and arms while walking can help prevent fluid from building up as you walk.
You can stretch out your fingers as you walk and then close your hand to make a fist. Do this several times throughout your walk to keep the blood flowing.
You can also perform arm circles as you walk. This will help to distribute fluid better throughout your arms and hands, and it can also help you burn a few more calories!
Bend Your Arms
If you don’t want to wave your arms around while you’re walking, you can simply focus on bending your arms as you walk.
Many walkers keep their hands low down at their sides. This can affect circulation negatively, so bending your arms at 90 degrees at the elbow can help to prevent this from happening.
One easy way to do this is to walk with poles. Although these are designed for navigating difficult terrain on the trail, you can use them wherever you walk to help keep your arms bent, use the arm muscles, and prevent blood flow problems.
Stay Hydrated (With Electrolytes)
No matter how far you’re walking or how intensely, carrying an electrolyte tablet and a bottle of water is a good idea.
If you notice that you’re sweating a lot or feeling dehydrated, pop the tablet into your bottle of water and sip on it.
This will help you to stay hydrated and replenish any electrolytes you may have lost during the walk.
However, we don’t recommend using an electrolyte tablet if you aren’t having symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance.
Avoid the Heat & Cold
If possible, try to avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day. If you live in a warm place, try to exercise early in the morning or later in the evening, when the sun isn’t so hot.
Alternatively, invest in a treadmill so that you can workout from home when the weather is too warm outside.
If you live somewhere cold, care for your hands by wearing running gloves. More importantly, keep your core warm so that there’s less chance of the blood moving to your core and leaving your extremities cold.
Try Compression Sleeves
If poor circulation is your problem, you can try wearing compression sleeves. These help improve circulation in the arms, which boosts circulation in the hands and can prevent swelling.
When Should I See a Doctor?
In rare cases, swollen hands when walking can be a sign of an underlying condition. This is not usually the case if your hands swell when walking but not any other time, but it’s good to know when you should be concerned.
If You Have These Additional Symptoms
If your hands swell and you have additional symptoms—when walking or between walks—there may be cause for concern.
See your doctor if you have these additional symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- An unexplained rash
- Pain or tenderness in the hands
- Stiffness in the fingers that lingers
- Swelling up to the wrist
If There May Be An Underlying Reason
You should consult a medical professional if:
- You’ve recently injured your hand/s
- You have a family history of arthritis
- There’s a chance that you may be pregnant—preeclampsia can cause hand swelling
If The Symptoms Don’t Improve With Prevention Measures
If you’ve been taking preventative steps, but nothing is working, you may want to visit your doctor to make sure that there’s no underlying condition causing your hands to swell while you’re walking.