Why Your Fingers Swell When Hiking (Prevention Tips)

Hiking is one of the healthiest activities, but it can carry some uncomfortable side effects. This includes everything from sore feet and ankles to swelling in your legs and fingers. So, why do your fingers swell when walking?

Your fingers swell when walking if you drink too much water without consuming some electrolytes as well. This also happens if your blood pressure increases, or you experience hormonal changes due to medication, menstruation, and your age. Excessive sweating, urination, overheating, and water retention can also cause your fingers to swell when walking.

Use a walking stick while hiking and squeeze your hands so your fingers don’t swell. Follow along as we explore why your fingers swell when hiking and highlight prevention tips to avoid discomfort.

Why Do My Fingers Swell When Walking?

Vasodilation

Vasodilation often occurs during physical activity, and this can explain why your fingers swell when walking. This is when your blood vessels dilate due to activity, medications, alcohol, and some foods. Vasodilation causes your blood pressure to lower, and it can lead to swelling in your fingers, hands, and legs.

Sometimes, vasodilation happens as a response to inflammation, and that is common when walking. Saturated fat, trans fat, excessive sodium, and processed meats can increase the inflammation in your body and cause your fingers to swell while hiking. Eat a low-carb, low-fat meal before hiking and avoid over-exerting yourself so you don’t become inflamed and experience too much vasodilation.

Low Sodium

You may think of sodium as bad because health experts recommend low-sodium diets, but it’s a necessary electrolyte. Consuming too much sodium can increase your blood pressure and contribute to heart disease, but too little is also dangerous. Low sodium can cause hyponatremia which can cause nausea, headaches, and swelling of the fingers.

This commonly happens while hiking because you excrete sodium as you sweat. Drinking water when hiking can further deplete your body of sodium. That’s why it’s important to consume electrolytes and water while hiking so your body doesn’t run low on sodium, magnesium, calcium, and potassium.

That said, excessive sodium in your body can also cause your fingers to swell when hiking. The FDA recommends that adults consume a maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium per day.

Overheating

Water retention, or edema, can cause your fingers to swell when hiking. Edema is when the tissues throughout your body retain water. Heat edema is when your body retains water when you become overheated due to physical activity or temperature.

This often affects your abdomen and can be quite uncomfortable, but it can affect your hands as well. Gravity pulls the fluid in different directions, and that includes your fingers. Get to a cool space when this happens and slowly drink a sports drink and water.

Hormones

Your finger can also swell when walking due to hormonal changes. This can happen due to menstruation, changes in diet, and medication. Some birth control medications can particularly cause hormonal changes that cause your fingers to swell when walking.

Whether it be premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or age-related hormonal changes, it isn’t typically an emergency when this happens. Visit your doctor if your fingers continue to swell when walking outside of your menstrual period or hormonal changes.

How Do I Stop My Fingers From Swelling When I Walk?

Consume Electrolytes

Consume electrolytes if you’ve drank a lot of water while hiking and your fingers are swollen. Of course, water is essential, but too much of it can strip your body of electrolytes through sweat and urine. Bring electrolyte tablets to add to your water or a sports drink, like Powerade, to maintain healthy electrolyte levels.

Milk, potatoes, broccoli, nuts, and coconut water are also healthy sources of electrolytes. However, it’s recommended that you visit a medical professional if your fingers are swollen and numb or you feel faint from electrolyte loss.

Use a Walking Stick

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

Sometimes, your fingers can swell when walking because they stay in the same position the whole time. Gravity may pull blood and fluid toward your hands or ankles, and this will cause them to swell. However, you can avoid this in many cases if you occasionally squeeze your hands to maintain healthy blood flow.

The easiest way to do this is to bring a walking stick with you on your hike. Switch back and forth between which hand you hold the walking stick with to avoid swelling in your fingers.

Don’t Restrict Your Hands

You can restrict your body’s blood flow if you restrict your hands when walking. Avoid wearing tight gloves when walking, even if it’s cold outside. There’s nothing wrong with wearing gloves when hiking, but it’s dangerous to restrict blood flow to your extremities, especially when you are active.

Wear your gloves so they are snug enough to keep cold air out without restricting your hands’ movement.

Stretch

It’s no secret that stretching is essential to athletic performance. This affects everything from walking and running to playing tennis and lifting weights. Ideally, you should stretch before and after hiking to ensure a healthy recovery.

Slowly swing your arms in circular motions to increase blood flow and reduce muscle tension. Carefully bend each finger back without hurting yourself and hold the position for between 30 and 60 seconds. Perform this stretch one finger at a time to ensure that each one is adequately stretched.

Avoid Hiking on Hot Days

Image by PDPhotos from Pixabay

Hiking and walking on hot days can naturally deplete your body of fluids and electrolytes. It can also promote inflammation, so it’s best to avoid walking on hot days. Vasoconstriction occurs when it’s cold instead of vasodilation.

This slows your blood flow, and it can make it feel like your fingers are shrinking. While your fingers aren’t permanently shrinking, they certainly won’t swell unless you have an electrolyte deficiency or a spike in your blood pressure.

So, Why Do Your Fingers Swell When You Walk?

Your fingers swell when you walk if you excrete too many electrolytes while hiking. This can also happen if you have high blood pressure or if you become overheated. Drink plenty of water when walking, but make sure to replenish key electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, and potassium so your fingers don’t swell when walking.

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