Swollen Fingers and Toes After Running

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It's common for runners to have swollen fingers and toes after a long run, especially when running in warm weather. You may be worried about this and wonder whether it indicates a problem.

The good news is that it is natural and happens to most people. While swollen fingers are only a concern if your rings are constricting you, swollen feet and toes can lead to blisters. The swelling should go down soon after you end your run. Learn the causes and what you can do.

Causes of Hand and Foot Swelling

Electrolyte imbalances or exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH) may be at the root of your hand and foot swelling during exercise. The swelling may also be related to changes in circulation.

Your blood flow increases while you're running. Your body sends more blood out into the capillaries, both to power your muscles and to try to cool the body by expending heat through the skin. This phenomenon is happening all over your body but you may notice it most in your hands and feet.

Some excess fluid may accumulate in your hands and feet because it has to travel against gravity back to your heart.

How to Prevent Swelling

If you've noticed swollen fingers or toes during or after your runs, you may want to take a few preventative steps before running. Remove your rings, loosen your running watch, and make sure your running shoes are not too tight.

You should also choose running shoes that are at least half a size bigger than your street shoe size. In fact, it's best to go shoe shopping after a run or at the end of the day when your feet are naturally swollen. You will raise your risk of blisters if your shoes become too tight once your feet swell during running.

To prevent or alleviate swollen fingers during your run, you can swing your arms in circles occasionally. Also, try stretching your fingers and then making fists several times to get the blood moving.

Prevent Electrolyte Imbalances

One reason for swollen fingers and toes after running is an electrolyte imbalance. The salt in your blood must be kept in balance to prevent swelling in your tissues. If you lose too much salt (through sweat) or you have too much salt in your diet, you may notice swelling in your extremities first.

To prevent swollen fingers and toes, you should make sure you replace the sodium you're losing through sweat by drinking sports drinks, consuming sports nutrition such as gels, doing a salt shot, or eating salty snacks, such as pretzels, during your long runs.

Hydrate Properly

Swelling of your hands and feet during a marathon or long run may be a sign of exercise-associated hyponatremia (EAH), which can result from drinking excessive amounts of water, causing a low concentration of sodium in the blood. Other signs of hyponatremia are nausea and vomiting.

Most marathon runners with EAH have no symptoms which is why it is concerning. Those who do experience symptoms often experience mild weakness, dizziness, and headache—not finger or toe swelling. Vomiting with confusion and/or headache is considered a warning sign for pending severe EAH and should be addressed immediately.

Hydrating properly with water (4 to 6 ounces every 20 minutes) during runs and consuming sports drinks during long runs are key to maintaining electrolyte balance. You should drink when thirsty rather than pushing fluids, as even electrolyte-containing sports drinks are still low-sodium compared to body fluids and can lead to overhydration.

When Swelling May Be a Concern

Your hand and foot swelling should go down within minutes to an hour after exercise. If they remain swollen, it should be discussed with your doctor. If you notice swollen fingers or toes frequently when you haven't been exercising, consult your healthcare professional to determine other possible explanations.

1 Source
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  1. Hew-Butler T, Loi V, Pani A, Rosner MH. Exercise-associated hyponatremia: 2017 updateFront Med (Lausanne). 2017;4:21. Published 2017 Mar 3. doi:10.3389/fmed.2017.00021

Additional Reading

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.