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Why Do My Hands Swell When I Walk?
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Why Do My Hands Swell When I Walk?

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by Isabel Mayfield | Medically reviewed by Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD check
Published on October 22, 2022
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6 min

Having to deal with hand swelling during exercise can get quite taxing. As such, we look into potential causes and ways to go around them. Stay tuned.

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Many people experience swelling in their hands during exercise. Exercise-related hand swelling (ERHS) is a condition characterized by an accumulation of fluid in the hands during or after exercise. This can cause the fingers to become swollen and painful. 

Hand swelling during exercise is most commonly seen in athletes but can also occur in people who are not physically active. Regardless, hand swelling can quickly become a frustrating and painful symptom, and knowing why it happens is very important.

In today’s article, we will look into the causes of hand swelling and how to resolve them. Let us get right into it, shall we? 

Why Do My Hands Swell When I Walk?

Although research still lacks when it comes to what causes your hands to swell when walking, some major suspects contribute to this condition. Hand swelling appears when there is blood circulation (increased blood flow and blood pressure), arm motion, and exercising under adverse conditions (extreme heat).

While one of these factors may lead to hand and finger swelling, it is more likely that a combination of these suspects will lead to this confusing symptom.

As such, we will be going over the list of causality. That way, you can make radical changes to your workout routine to avoid swollen hands.

Increased blood flow

At a certain point during your exercise, your system pushes blood throughout your body at a higher rate to meet the body’s increased demand for oxygen. The blood vessels respond by widening to accommodate the blood flow.

The increased blood flow makes the body and blood vessels swell.

Likewise, increased blood flow can cause fluid to leak out of the vessels and into the surrounding tissue. As a result, the tissues begin to swell, and you may notice that your hands and fingers appear puffy or bloated. 

In severe cases, this swelling can lead to pain or numbness in the affected area or difficulty moving the affected limb. 

You can try taking a break to reduce blood flow. With time, the hand swelling should come down.

Excess salt levels

Your body maintains a certain balance between its salt and water levels. Disrupting this equilibrium by consuming too much salt can prove disastrous for your health.

The kidneys function as the body’s filter, removing all sorts of waste (unwanted fluids and toxins) from your blood. This waste gets sent to the bladder, which then passes out as urine. Consuming excess salt halts the kidneys from carrying out their job well.

The buildup of these unwanted fluids forces your heart to work harder to circulate blood, increasing blood pressure. This, in turn, stresses the kidneys, preventing them from filtering fluid and increasing the risk of kidney disease.

This continues in a dangerous cycle until the kidneys eventually fail. Hand swelling occurs as a by-product of excess fluid buildup. As such, you require immediate medical attention.

According to research, the United States sees uncontrolled high blood pressure as the biggest causality of kidney failure following diabetes. Therefore, limiting salt intake (sticking to the daily requirement) equals healthier kidneys and stopping your hands from swelling while you exercise. 

Hyponatremia

When you exercise, especially in hot weather, your muscles generate heat. This makes your system push blood toward blood vessels closest to your skin in a bid to cool down – the response triggers perspiration.

The result is a condition experts refer to as hyponatremia (low blood sodium levels). Hyponatremia occurs when consuming many hypotonic fluids compared to the body’s electrolyte levels. This results from sweat, urine, and other bodily fluid losses.

The most common sign of hyponatremia is swollen hands and fingers. However, hyponatremia causes systemic symptoms such as headache, nausea, vomiting, and confusion and, if left unattended, can be fatal.

Research reveals that many endurance athletes develop hyponatremia from drinking a ton of water, especially during marathons or similar grueling activities. 

The combination of excessive sweating, gastrointestinal changes, and high hypotonic fluid intake lowers the body’s sodium concentration, causing fluid retention in the tissue around the joints.

As the condition progresses, the swelling may spread to the arms and legs. To combat this, you must know what the best electrolyte replacement is. That way, you get to stay hydrated while skipping hyponatremia. 

Lymphedema

Lymphedema is a condition in which lymph fluid builds up in the tissues and causes swelling. The lymph system is a network of vessels and nodes that helps circulate lymph fluid throughout the body. 

Lymphedema can occur when the lymph system is damaged, removed, or not functioning correctly. Experts refer to this as secondary lymphedema. A good example is the removal of lymph nodes from the armpits while treating breast cancer. 

You can also inherit primary lymphedema from birth, although it commonly affects the legs. Overall, hand and finger swelling is common in people with lymphedema, as fluids can accumulate in the extremities. 

Regardless, there is a treatment for lymphedema, and it often involves compression therapy, which helps to reduce swelling by applying pressure to the affected area. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary to remove excess lymph fluid or tissue.

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3 Tips on How to Reduce Hand Swelling

At this point, you are well aware of some of the reasons why your hands swell while you are going about your walk. In any case, let’s take a look at strategies for reducing or completely shutting down hand swelling.

#1 Remove jewelry from your hands

You should make it a habit to remove your hand jewelry before going for a walk. That is because exercise increases blood flow, which can cause rings and other hand jewelry to get stuck. Instead, keep them safely in a jewelry box at home.

Your fingers swell when you wear tight rings because it cuts off blood circulation. Likewise, your hands swell when you wear bracelets, watches, and fitness trackers with tight straps.

With fitness trackers, you should position them a bit higher on your arm. That way, they can still keep track of your heart rate without obstructing blood flow.

Anyway, the swelling should go down relatively quickly if you take off the jewelry. In some cases, you may need to elevate your hands and apply ice to help reduce the swelling.

#2 Stretch your fingers before and after the exercise

Engaging in finger exercises is one way to reduce the risk of swelling, and there are several finger stretching exercises to choose from. These exercises include palm stretches, finger extensor stretches, object pickup, and tendon gliding, among others.

Finger stretches improve blood circulation, reduce pain, and increase flexibility. The rule of thumb is to stretch your hands and fingers every couple of minutes instead of leaving them dangling by your sides.

When stretching your fingers, you should try to hold the position for a few seconds before stopping. Repeat this several times, and you are good to go. 

You can also work out your hands by using exercise tools such as resistance bands and stress balls. These tools help warm up and loosen the working muscles, allowing more blood to flow. 

#3 Perform arm circles between exercises

Another way to reduce the risk of hand swelling is to perform occasional forward and backward arm circles.

Arm circles help reduce stiffness and promote better blood circulation by stretching the muscles and tendons in your hands. As a result, your hands will be less likely to swell during or after exercise.

Therefore, it is important you pencil it into your workout routine, keeping your arms active and free.

A Word From Our Coach

Developing swollen hands while exercising can be frustrating and confusing for many people. In certain cases, the condition can go from uncomfortable to painful. Knowing the potential causes is important as it allows you to tailor your lifestyle to avert this issue.

When dealing with such delicate health conditions, seeing a doctor should be at the top of your priority list, especially when the swelling does not go away after exercising. This is because hand and finger swelling might be of other related symptoms, signifying something major.

By letting a professional check you out, you eliminate all possibilities, and you can carry on with your routine walks.

Conclusion

Having swollen hands while going on your routine walks should not be something to fret about. However, it is difficult walking with swollen hands because the added weight makes it harder to move.

In any case, you can try out any of the solutions listed earlier. If your swollen hands and fingers do not result from something major, the solutions should help. 

Likewise, you should also affect lifestyle changes that align with your health goals. Eat right, and exercise well. Stay healthy!

Isabel-Mayfield-health-reporter
Written by
Isabel Mayfield is a certified yoga instructor with over 10 years of experience in the fitness industry. She is passionate about self-improvement and loves to help people improve their sense of self-worth through education and support in meeting their fitness goals.
Medically reviewed by Rosmy Barrios, MD
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