Why Do Your Hands Swell When Hiking?

Ok, imagine this scenario. It’s one of your first times hiking and you’re in a group. This group is a mix of some people you know and some others that you’ve never met before. This is a longer hike than you’re used to, but hey – you’re feeling pretty good and full of energy. You got this!

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It’s not until about 3 miles in that you start to feel a little stiffness in your hands. You look down and are horrified to see that your fingers have swelled and your hand is all puffy!! You squeeze your hand into a fist and it’s like you have a rubber band wrapped around it. It hurts your tight skin yet feels so good on your hand muscles.

You feel a little awkward but ask if anyone else’s hands are swollen?

“Oh, you mean sausage fingers?!” someone in the group says from the back.

“Sausage fingers?” you question.

“Yea, that’s what we call it when your hands swell. Don’t worry, it’s completely normal. Just keep moving your hands around and try to elevate them more often as you’re hiking” the person replies back.

You do that for the remainder of the hike, but the swelling does not go down.

man in blue dress shirt and blue jeans and orange backpack standing on mountain cliff looking at town under blue sky and white clouds

After the hike, you all meet up for some burgers and beers. As you’re sitting there at the table lifting your beer glass up to drink from, you suddenly realize the swelling has gone down and your fingers are complete back to normal!

“What’s that all about?!” you think to yourself but then continue on in conversation.

Yea, what is that all about?! Well, it seems that no one can directly answer that question. This could be the great hiking mystery that will never be solved. But some medical professionals, think they know the answer.

The first answer you’ll get, is that you’re dehydrated. This is actually a common myth about sausage fingers.

In fact, the reason could be that you don’t have enough sodium in your body. Salt from the nuts in trail mix or some salty chips can help add more sodium into your body.

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Another reason could be the straps on your pack. It could be restricting the blood flow up in your shoulder areas, which then affect how the blood flows into your hands.

Or it could just be a lack of arm motion. When hiking your core and legs are doing all the work. Your arms are just kind of hanging there. So you could try some trekking poles and see if that helps reduce the swelling as well.

men s blue leather jacket and brown backpack

The take away from sausage fingers is that it is completely normal when hiking.  There are many reasons why this could be happening and the reasons differ from person to person. You can experiment with different suggestions and see if that helps you. But ultimately after the hike is over your hands will go back to normal.

I get sausage fingers every time I hike. What about you? Do you do anything different to try to reduce the swelling?

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