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.
Feb. 11, 2023
From Mayo Clinic to your inbox
Sign up for free, and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips and current health topics, like COVID-19, plus expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
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.
Thank you for subscribing!
You'll soon start receiving the latest Mayo Clinic health information you requested in your inbox.
Sorry something went wrong with your subscription
Please, try again in a couple of minutes
See more Expert Answers
- Kenney WL, et al. Cardiorespiratory responses to acute exercise. In: Physiology of Sport and Exercise. 8th ed. Champaign, Ill. Human Kinetics; 2022.
- Rangan GK, et al. Clinical characteristics and outcomes of hyponatremia associated with oral water intake in adults: A systematic review. British Medical Journal Open. 2021; doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2020-046539.
- Laskowski ER (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic. Nov. 23, 2022.
- Giudice ML. Effects of continuous passive motion and elevation on hand edema. American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 1990; doi:10.5014/ajot.44.10.914.
- Cohen PR. Post ambulatory swollen hands (POTASH): An autobiographical case report. Cureus. 2021; doi: 10.7759/cureus.19312.