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Swollen Fingers After Hiking:
What To Do

Ever notice that you have swollen fingers after hiking?

Or in the middle of a long day on the trail?

You might have questions about why fluid accumulates in your hands, fingers, feet, ankles and elsewhere when you hike.

  • Is that normal?
  • What can you do when your hands and fingers swell up on a hike?

Let's tackle those questions.


Is this swelling in my fingers normal?

If your fingers swell after a hike, or you notice swollen ankles after your hiking boots come off, you're seeing fluid that should be in tissue spaces.

This watery fluid can get pushed into your fingers due to gravity, because your fingers are dangling for long periods of time as you hike.

Your blood vessels increase in diameter as your muscle contractions go on and on, also pushing fluid into your fingers.

  • Technical name for this wealth of fluid: peripheral edema.

This can also happen in your face (bags under your eyes, for example).

  • Especially if you're hiking at high altitude or high temperatures.

Important tip: This fluid accumulation should be painless.

  • If it's painful, it could be inflammation due to an injury, infection or some other issue that needs medical attention.
  • Read more about hiking inflammation here.

So what can I do about
swollen fingers after hiking?

There are lots of things you can try to reduce the amount of swelling, or prevent it altogether.

Suggestions for swollen fingers after a hike

Start by removing all hand and wrist jewellery (use sunscreen or lip balm and a gentle twisting motion). 

  • Make a mental note to leave those items at home on your next hike.
  • Or wear your rings on a sturdy chain around your neck.

Sit down where you can prop your elbows above your heart. This returns the fluid more easily to the bloodstream because it works with, not against, gravity.

  • Raise your hands to the sky and hold that pose for a few minutes.
  • Wiggle your fingers.
  • Gentle massage in a wringing or milking motion toward the heart also helps move the fluid out of the fingers.

While you're propped up, consider whether or not you drank enough water during the hike.

And were you dehydrated even at the beginning of the hike?

Also ask yourself if your trail food was unusually salty.

  • This is super important if you're hiking during your period, as fluid retention is to be expected  - why make it worse?

Also think about your upper body clothing in terms of how tight and constrictive it might be.

  • Do you have dents in your skin from your shirt or sports bra?
  • Is your watch band digging into your flesh?

It's possible that your backpack straps are cinched down too tightly, so check that out before you put it on again.

You can also try cold compresses, or plunging your hands into any available cold stream, lake or snow patch.

  • Tip: Hikers who use trekking poles seem to have less problem with finger swelling, probably because they are "milking" the fluid back to the heart as they grasp the poles. Using poles also forces you to swing your arms, helping the fluid along its path back to the heart.

Give it a few hours to go away

The fluid accumulation in your swollen fingers took awhile to get there.

So give it a few hours to get redistributed in your body.

This goes for swollen feet and ankles after a hike, too.

But if your fingers don't return to normal size within a few hours, something else is going on.

  • You should be looked at by your health care provider ASAP to rule out allergies, infection, lymphatic obstructions, hyponatremia or other issues.
  • Don't ignore swelling that doesn't go away quickly.

Swollen fingers after hiking:
no fun, but manageable

Now you know why your hands and fingers swell on a hike.

You also know what to do to manage the swelling, and even prevent it from bothering you again.

No more sausage fingers (or crab claws) for you!

Need more healthy hiking tips? Coming right up here.


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Swollen fingers after a hike? Learn a few tips for preventing and managing swelling associated with hiking at Hiking For Her.

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