Swollen hands hiking or similar physical activities are quite common.
The most likely cause of this problem relates to the body’s blood vessels and increased energy demands. While the swollen hands are usually harmless, it is an indication of the body attempting to control the core temperature.
They usually return to normal fairly quickly. However, if the swollen hands do not subside within 2-3 hours after completing a hike it might benefit to visit a doctor.
Here are five reasons why the hands swell during long hikes:
Decreased blood flow
Engaging in a strenuous exercise like hiking increases blood flow throughout the body to the muscles, heart, and lungs, while certain areas will notice a reduction in blood flow such as the hands and feet.
This reduction in blood flood can result in hands swelling and cooling down. Plus, the physical activity increases the body temperature and blood vessels dilate which can push them closer to the surface of the skin – this can also lead to swollen hands.
Vasodilation (or blood vessel dilation) is one of the methods the body relies on to control temperature while active or taking part in physical exercise.
Hyponatremia on the hiking trails is a more serious condition and can relate to taking in an excessive amount of fluids.
Consuming too much water or energy drinks can impact the balance of sodium in the bloodstream. If the dilated sodium is combined with a high amount of sweating this can result in an excessive amount of sodium leaving the body. A consequence of this is nausea, fatigue, and swollen hands.
Any hiker experiencing the symptoms of hyponatremia should stop the hike with immediate effect and request medical attention. Hyponatremia left untreated, can result in a life-threatening situation.
Wearing tight watches, bracelets, rings, etc. can make the first signs of swelling more uncomfortable and noticeable.
Pregnant women might be at a higher risk of swelling because of the higher rate of blood to the muscles, lungs, heart, and uterus.
There are plenty of outdoor allergens that can lead to an allergic reaction such a swelling in the hands or other areas of the body.
Poison ivy, oak, and sumac are common plants that can result in skin allergy and discomfort while on the trail. Wearing a long-sleeve top and pants can help to minimize most issues with poisonous plants that cause an allergic skin reaction.
There are several actions that can be taken to reduce or prevent issues related to swollen hands hiking, including:
- Use hiking trails in regions with cooler climates to minimize issues with swelling or overheating.
- Cut back on the salty snacks eaten prior to starting a hike to lower the chance of water retention.
- Drink the suggested amount of water (2-3 quarts per day) on the hike to avoid thinning the sodium levels.
- Control the early signs of swelling in the hands by lifting them overhead every now and then.
- Give the hands a gentle massage to help improve the blood flow and reduce the signs of swelling.
- Hiking poles raise your hands and take some effort off of your lower body and can reduce the amount of swelling.
Matt Green, is an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. He is always planning his next big trip or hitting the trails for a solo hike.
He’s traveled extensively to many remote regions and has plenty of experience exploring various terrains, and stories to tell.