Why Do Hands Swell When Hiking? Unveiling The Mystery

When hiking or engaging in other outdoor activities, have you ever experienced your hands become bigger than their usual size? This is a phenomenon known as hand swelling, which can be uncomfortable or distracting when you are trying to enjoy your trip. In this article, we will explore the causes of hand swelling when hiking and how you can prevent or reduce the occurrence of this condition.

The Anatomy Of Hands

Before we delve into the reasons for hand swelling, it’s essential to understand the human hand’s structure. The hand has several bones connected to ligaments, tendons, and muscles, structured to perform intricate movements. Blood vessels and nerves run through the hand, and their damage can lead to hand numbness, tingling, or pain. The lymphatic system is also present in hands. The lymphatic vessels are responsible for carrying fluids from the body’s interstitial spaces and moving them back to the bloodstream.

What Is Hand Swelling?

Hand swelling refers to an increase in the size of the hands due to fluid accumulation in the tissues. The swelling might affect either one or both hands and can range from mild to severe. Hand swelling can also produce a feeling of tightness and stiffness in the hands, limiting your range of motion. Some people may experience pitting edema, where you can press a finger into the swollen area, leaving an indentation for a few seconds.

What Causes Hand Swelling During Hiking?

Hand swelling during hiking is a common occurrence that can result from various causes, including:

  • 1. Thirst: Dehydration can lead to body fluids pooling in the hands, causing swelling.
  • 2. Altitude: When hiking at high altitudes, the barometric pressure may decrease, affecting blood vessel walls and leading to fluid leakage into surrounding tissues.
  • 3. Overuse: Repetitive hand motions like hanging onto a trekking pole can cause swelling in the hands.
  • 4. Heat: Excessive heat can cause fluid retention and hand swelling.
  • 5. Allergic reaction: If you come into contact with something you are allergic to, your hands may swell.
  • 6. Medical conditions: Certain conditions like arthritis, tendinitis, or carpal tunnel syndrome can cause hand swelling.
  • 7. Sodium intake: Eating too many salty foods can cause water retention, leading to swelling of the hands.

How Can You Prevent Hand Swelling During Hiking?

Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent or reduce the occurrence of hand swelling during hiking. These include:

  • 1. Hydration: Staying hydrated is crucial when hiking to prevent dehydration and fluid retention, which can lead to hand swelling.
  • 2. Stop and rest: Taking breaks during your hike can help reduce hand swelling due to overuse or altitude changes.
  • 3. Wear comfortable gloves: Wearing comfortable, well-fitting gloves can help reduce friction and prevent hand swelling.
  • 4. Control sodium intake: Reducing your sodium intake can help prevent fluid retention and hand swelling.
  • 5. Hand exercises: Performing hand exercises can help prevent hand swelling by promoting efficient lymphatic drainage.
  • 6. Anti-inflammatory medication: Using anti-inflammatory medication can help reduce swelling due to medical conditions like arthritis.


In conclusion, hand swelling during hiking can be uncomfortable, but it’s a common phenomenon that you can prevent or reduce by staying hydrated, taking breaks, wearing comfortable gloves, and performing hand exercises. If the swelling persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, consult a medical professional for further evaluation and treatment.


  • Q: Does hand swelling during hiking affect only hikers?
  • A: No, hand swelling can affect anybody engaging in outdoor activities that would require the use of their hands, including rock climbing and rafting activities.
  • Q: Is hand swelling during hiking life-threatening?
  • A: No, hand swelling is rarely life-threatening. However, it could cause discomfort and affect the activities you engage in.
  • Q: How long does it take for hand swelling to resolve?
  • A: Hand swelling can resolve within a few hours to a few days, depending on the cause and the individual’s response to treatment.
  • Q: Can you continue hiking when you experience hand swelling?
  • A: It is advisable to take breaks until the swelling subsides; continuing to hike might exacerbate the swelling, leading to more discomfort and pain.


  • “Hand and Wrist Anatomy.” OrthoInfo. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeon, n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2021.
  • “Swelling: What It Is and How to Reduce It.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 18 Dec. 2020. Web. 06 Oct. 2021.
  • “Hand Exercises for Swelling.” Healthline. Healthline Media, 10 Feb. 2021. Web. 06 Oct. 2021.
  • “Altitude Illness: Prevention, Symptoms & Treatments.” REI Co-op. Recreational Equipment Inc., n.d. Web. 06 Oct. 2021.

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