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Swollen Fingers After Hiking:
Is That Normal?

By Diane Spicer

Do your fingers and hands swell after or maybe even during a hike? Try Hiking For Her tips for this problem. #swollenfingershiking #hikingtips #hikingforher

Ever notice that you have swollen fingers after hiking that make your hands feel like crab claws?

Or have you ever glanced down in the middle of a long day on the trail and say yikes, are those sausages holding my trekking poles?

Yeah, me too.

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

Because living with swollen fingers after a hike?

Not much fun.

Let's start with some tips for managing the swelling after you get off the trail.

None of this is medical advice, just tips from a hiker whose swollen fingers after hiking got her thinking about ways to handle the problem.

Post-hike suggestions
for swollen fingers

As female hikers, we are more prone to wearing jewelry on our hands and wrists than male hikers.

So start by removing all of your rings and bracelets.

This might be harder than it sounds with swollen fingers.

  • Use a dab of sunscreen or lip balm and a gentle twisting motion to get those rings off.

Make a mental note to leave those items at home on your next hike.

Or wear your ring(s) 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.

Hydration status

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?

Be prepared

If you know that you're going to have sausage fingers, prepare a self care kit and stash it at the trailhead.

Suggestion: Grab a cooler, fill it with ice, and include:

  • Plenty of clean, cold beverages that will rehydrate you quickly (no alcohol, caffeine or carbonation)
  • Juicy fruits that will bring water into your blood stream quickly: slices of melons or bunches of grapes
  • Ice packs that you can apply where needed

Trail tips for next time
to prevent swollen fingers after hiking

Try some different combinations of unsalted fast energy, known as trail mixes.

And consider investing in a hiking hydration backpack.

  • You'll be able to sip water throughout your hiking day, making you more inclined to drink enough.

What about
during the hike?

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?
  • Maybe your jacket sleeves are too tight; consider switching to a jacket with adjustable wrist options.

Is your watch band or fitness tracker digging into your flesh?

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

  • Optional: Take off your backpack by releasing the tension from the straps and sliding it down your back.
  • This forces you to re-adjust the strap snugness when you put it back on.

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

  • Carry an instant cold pack to apply to your hands if you hike where cold water isn't available.
  • Or freeze an extra water bottle the night before your hike to use for the same purpose.

Poles can make a big difference

A hiker who uses trekking poles may have less of a problem with finger swelling, probably because her muscle contractions are "milking" the fluid back to her heart as she grasps the poles.

Using poles also forces her to swing her arms, helping the fluid along its path back to the heart.

  • This in turn can lead to less likelihood of swollen fingers after hiking.

So try using poles, and note whether or not it makes a difference in your swollen fingers after hiking.

Not really sure if it's working for you?

Use your trail journal to gather data on the length of the hike, the changes in swelling, and which trail tips you tried before you decide to just live with swollen fingers.

Sometimes it takes a few hikes before you see a pattern in improvement.

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 after you stop hiking.

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 (low sodium levels) or other issues.
  • Don't ignore swelling that doesn't go away quickly.

Why do swollen fingers after hiking
happen to us?

When your fingers swell after a hike, or you notice swollen ankles after your hiking boots come off, you're dealing with an abundance of fluid in tissue spaces.

This watery lymph fluid was pushed into your fingers due to gravity, because your fingers were dangling for long periods of time as you hiked.

Another factor in swollen fingers
after hiking

Your blood vessels increase in diameter as your muscle contractions go on and on during a hike, which also pushes 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 in high temperatures.

So don't be alarmed if swollen fingers after a hike isn't your only problem to deal with after you take off your boots.

If you're headed into those types of hiking terrains, use these tips to get your entire body ready for the challenge:

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 how to manage hiking inflammation here.
  • If in doubt, get it checked out!
Swollen fingers after a hike? Learn a few tips for preventing and managing the swelling associated with hiking at Hiking For Her. #swollenfingers #swellingafterhike #hiking #backpacking #hikingtips

Swollen fingers after hiking:
not 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 Hiking