Swelling can be caused by several factors, but the most common causes are gravity and the way the body distributes heat during exercise. As the core muscles heat up when hiking, the vascular system cools the body down by releasing more fluid to our fingers, hands, and feet. When blood reaches the skin to dissipate the heat, fluids leak out of the vessels, causing swelling of the limbs. Medically known as exercise-induced peripheral edema, the problem is not serious and will go away soon after you stop hiking.
How to Prevent Swelling
Keeping your arms suspended long-term can cause blood to pool up in the extremities. Rapidly swinging your arms above your head in a circular motion will move blood from your hands and reduce swelling.
- Elevate your arms above your head every so often, or bend your arms up by gripping the thumb or shoulder straps on your pack.
- Use a hiking pole. Gripping a pole (or stick) promotes circulation because the gripping motion engages the muscles in the hand, thereby facilitating blood flow.
- If you don’t use poles, activate your hand muscles to promote circulation by squeezing them into a fist and releasing the grip every few minutes. You can also grab your water bottle or another object and swing it around as you walk.
A less common cause of swelling in the hands is caused by low blood sodium concentration. This can occur if you drink too much fluid or water than your body can get rid of. Hyponatremia is more commonly associated with ultra-distance running than with backpacking or hiking.
So, if you ever experience swelling or puffiness in your fingers or hands when hiking, chances are all you need to do is to improve blood circulation to your hands.
Keep in mind that these suggestions may not prevent swollen hands if you suffer from a health condition. If the puffiness does not go away within a few hours after hiking, consult with a doctor.