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Why Your Hands Swell Up When You Exercise

"When's Sara's not writing you can find her hanging out with teenagers at her day job as a counselor and with her own son and daughter. With a B.S. in Exercise Science and a M. Ed. in counseling, she enjoys writing about health, wellness...

If you get swollen 'sausage fingers' when you exercise, you are not alone

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It never fails. About 15 minutes into my morning jog, I notice my hands start to feel tight and my fingers puff up like sausages. As I run through the list of reasons why my hands suddenly look like they belong to someone else, the swelling gets worse and I begin to think something is seriously wrong. But apparently, I’m not alone in my swelling situation because this annoying little occurrence actually happens to many fitness enthusiasts.

Swelling of the hands is a common reaction to exercising, and it’s even more common when your hands are swinging at your sides. According to the Mayo Clinic, exercise increases blood flow to your heart and lungs, as well as to the muscles you're working. Consequently, this can reduce blood flow to your hands, making them cooler. In turn, the blood vessels in your hands may react by opening wider — which could lead to hand swelling.

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As you continue to exercise, your muscles generate heat that makes your system push blood to the vessels closest to the surface of your body to dissipate heat. The result: Blood pools in the veins of your fingers, and when you finish running or walking, you can’t take off your wedding band.

And while it may feel like a scary situation when it’s happening to you, it’s usually not the result of any serious medical condition. In most cases, the swelling goes away within about an hour or so after you have cooled down from exercising, but if it continues or is accompanied by any other symptoms, it might be best to contact your doctor.

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Here are a few tips for reducing hand and finger swelling during exercise:

Remove your rings prior to exercise

You might also want to loosen anything you have around your wrist, such as a watch or activity tracker.

Do a few arm circles every couple of minutes

Remember the old windmills you used to do as a kid in PE class? Well, it’s time to start circling your arms again while you run or walk.

Don’t clench your hands

It’s important to relax your hands and not make a fist. Also, remember to stretch your fingers out every couple of minutes.

Put your hands up

Place your hands on top of your head for a few seconds and then raise them over your head and pump your fists. Yes, you might look a little ridiculous to the cars passing by, but it’s almost guaranteed to help decrease the puffiness. And as a side note, this is also a handy trick to get rid of the nasty side stitch that can happen when power-walking or running.

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Make sure you're wearing the right gear

Exercise clothes shouldn't be too tight. Also, leave your shoes loose enough to allow for proper circulation to the feet.

Stay hydrated

If your exercise session is going to be longer than an hour and you'll be sweating pretty heavily, make sure your daily intake of water and salt is balanced. Try to drink at least two glasses of water one to two hours before you exercise and then take in 7 to 10 ounces of water every 20 minutes during exercise. Finish off with an additional 8 ounces within 30 minutes of the end of your activity.

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