My husband and I call it museum hands! The swelling you get when you walk for a while. I first experienced it while walking round the museums in London many years ago. I had no idea what it was and I could hardly get my rings off when we eventually reached the hotel that evening.
If your hands swell when walking, don’t worry you are not alone in this. Many people who exercise experience swollen hands. While the cause isn’t completely clear some think it is a result of how your body is reacting to the exercise that you are doing, lack of arm movement or an imbalance in your salt levels.
For me it seemed to be a combination of several things. My hands did calm down after a while but it can be a bit frightening when it first happens. I also find after my 40 minute walk my hands still swell up but I put that down to heat. This summer has been really hot to the point where I nearly gave up walking it was so uncomfortable. So it seems that many walkers experience swollen hands and not just in warm weather either according to some of the research I have read. To put your mind at ease I wanted to share with you some of the thinking if your hands swell when you walk. This information put my mind at ease. The thing with Googling something like swollen hands, can result in so much medical issues being raised that one can often think oh I need to rush to the ER! I read through the information below and my mind was put at ease. Of course if you are concerned with your hands it goes withou saying that you should visit your health professional. The information I have shared below is just to give you general information on what could be causing your hands to swell when you walk.
Blood flow seems to be the most suggested cause. When you start walking your hands can be either be cool or just the right temperature. As you walk, heat up and get your heart pumping the blood flow increases. Of course your hands and feet are the last to feel this rise in temperature and as a result there could be more blood flow going to these parts of your body causing your hands to swell up. Your feet could swell as well but you probably don’t notice that as much unless you are wearing tight fitting shoes. I think this could be one of the reasons my hands swell as my hands are often cool when I start on my walking journey home. This is also true if it is cold outside and I don’t have gloves on.
Lack of arm movement. I did think this was part of my problem when in London and walking round the museums. My arms weren’t moving that much. Some think that if you don’t move your arms that much then the blood flow is slower causing it to pool in your hands. I don’t often pump my arms on my walk to the train station especially if I have my bag and an umbrella to carry. In fact I don’t know my hands swelling at all when I have to carry an umbrella.
Imbalance in salts. Salts in your bloodstream are known as electrolytes. These should be kept in balance to help keep swelling at bay. If you are walking and sweat then you lose salt. This causes and imbalance and could cause the swelling to your hands. Many athletics replenish their electrolyes as they go with sports drinks. I stay away from them as there are too many calories in them! I think this is also a possibly for me. I notice when the sweat starts to run down my face that my eyes sometimes sting and I wonder if this is the salt. Again another possibility for my hands swelling.
Exercise. Your hands could be swelling when you walk simply because you are exercising. When you go for a brisk walk you are working your heart and your lungs. This can cause the blood flow to your hands to reduce and make them cooler than the rest of your body. The blood vessels in your hands then my react to this making them swell slightly. Another reason could be that your hands are cooling down as a response to the rest of the heat that is generating in your body – especially if you are sweating. Again walking is exercise so this is certainly something to consider is the cause of your hands swelling.
Steps to prevent and treat if your hands swell when walking
I have tried many things to help me treat my swollen hands when walking. Some have worked, some haven’t but I have also tried to prevent it from happening. Again with some degree of success. I’ve listed them below to give you an idea of what they are and if you want to give them a go yourself. I’d love to know how you get on if you try them. just pop a comment below.
- There is one thing that really annoys me if I am experiencing hand swelling after coming back from a walk and that’s getting my rings off! My first tip is to suggest you leave your rings at home prior to your walk. If you can’t do that then place them in your purse to keep them safe. Rings can become so tight so give this a go and see how it goes. I do this at weekends but don’t during the week as I like to wear my rings going to and from work.
- When you are walking briskly you often lose both water and salt from sweating. Sipping on an iostonic sports drink may help to reduce swelling in your hands although be careful not to drink too many calories! Oh and of course make sure you don’t exceed the recommended salt intake guidelines either. This is a recommendation I read but haven’t tried this. I often drink water after a brisk walk as I don’t want to be drinking calories!
- Pumping your arms when walking could help you. This will help keep the blood circulating to your hands and stop them swelling. I have done this at weekends and it seems to work although like I said above holding up an umbrella has also helped me.
- Keep your hands loose. Don’t clench your hands, keep them open and relaxed. Try and stretch them every now and again and wiggle your fingers. Do this every few minutes when you are walking to try and prevent your hands from swelling when walking. This is something I do on a regular basis for a number of reasons. First is the swollen hands but secondly it’s a great way to make sure your body isn’t full of stress either.
- You could try carrying a stress ball or something similar. Squeeze it every now and again. This will work your hand muscles and it will stretch them too. This will also help your grip which seems to get weak as we get older. When I’m holding an umbrella I often squeeze the handle every now and then and that seems to do the same thing, although my grip isn’t very strong.
- If you wear a FitBit or other fitness tracker, make sure it’s not too tight around your wrist. Wear it a bit loser when walking and wear it further up your arm rather than around your wrist. I hate having anything tight around my wrist and can highly recommend this one.
- Use a walking pole. You could try walking with a pole. Rotate it from one hand to the other for maximum benefit. I haven’t tried this one yet as I’m considering whether to buy a walking stick / pole myself. I really don’t think I need one at the moment for walking up hills and mountains but that may change.
- Reach for the sky. Stretch every now and again to get your arms above your head, or reach up to touch the lovely trees if you feel self conscious! I haven’t tried this one but feel I need to give it a go. Just trying to find the right place to do it could be an issue.
- Try to do your walking at a cooler part of the day. Avoid the hot mid-day sun and carry a water bottle with you to keep you cool. During the hot spell of weather I was walking home around 4pm but it was still too hot. There wasn’t much I could do about it apart from finding the shaddy side of the street which seemed to help me.
Other things to watch out for if hands swell when walking
I’ve mentioned why your hands could be swelling when you walk and have shared some of the things I have been doing and some of the things I have yet to try. What I haven’t touched on is the other reasons for your hands swelling. I’m not a doctor so if you think there are other reasons why this is happening then please visit your health professional.
If your hands stay swollen for a long while after you stop walking or if you are in pain then it’s probably best to see your doctor or health professional to get them checked over. Our hands come in to contact with so many surfaces that it’s best to get it checked just in case you haven’t picked up an infection of some sort. I had the unlucky experience of getting an insect bite while on holiday one year, it wasn’t my hand that had swollen but my big toe! It was horrible and I eventually had to get it treated. Insect bites really are awful.
Another reason for hand swelling which may be out of character for you could be a side effect of your medication. I’m sure you are aware that some come with side effects and one could be swelling. Check it out with your doctor.
One other factor that comes in to play could be the heat. It seems that heat this summer – while lovely to look at – has been a problem for a number of people. Hot and sunny weather may contribute to a rapid change in your temperature as your body tries its best to keep cool. This often comes with some heat disorders such as prickly heat. I have to admit to getting a heat rash during the summer. Another side effect of this is swelling of hands, feet and legs. Being exposed to the temperatures we have seen this summer could lead to a rapid loss of fluid which you should replenish by drinking plenty of water.
As mentioned above, try your best to walk out of the high sun and maybe leave your walking until evening when the temperature starts to drop a little. Alternatively if you have treadmill, give it a go and stay out of the heat altogether!