What causes hand swelling during exercise? I walk several times a week, and my fingers get so puffy that I can't get my rings off.

Answer From Edward R. Laskowski, M.D.

Hand swelling during exercise is common. The cause isn't completely clear. It appears to result from the way your body and blood vessels react to the higher energy needs of your muscles during exercise.

During exercise, more blood flows to your heart and lungs and to the muscles you're working. Less blood may flow to your hands, making them cooler. The blood vessels in your hands may react by opening wider. This could lead to hand swelling.

As you exercise, your muscles make heat. Your body pushes blood to the vessels closest to your skin to let the heat out. This action causes sweating. It also may make your hands swell.

Sometimes, high-level athletes develop hyponatremia (hi-poe-nuh-TREE-me-uh). This is an unusually low level of salt, also called sodium, in the blood. Swollen fingers and hands may be a sign of hyponatremia. Other signs, such as confusion and throwing up, may stand out more than the swelling. Hyponatremia is a serious condition that needs medical treatment right away.

There's no proven way to prevent or reduce most exercise-related hand swelling. But these tips may help ease trouble:

  • Take off your rings and loosen your watchband before exercise.
  • Circle your arms forward and backward at times during exercise.
  • Stretch your fingers wide, make fists and raise your hands higher than your heart several times during exercise.
  • When walking, use a hiking pole to keep your hand muscles squeezing.
  • Wear gloves that are snug but not too tight.
  • Drink liquids that have some salt in them while exercising, such as a sports drink that has electrolytes.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

Feb. 11, 2023 See more Expert Answers