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It's not unusual for hikers to find their hands and fingers puffy and swollen while hiking. Technically known as peripheral edema, gravity and the swinging of your arms will do that when you're walking with your hands relaxed and swinging by your side. Generally, there's no danger and the problem reverses itself within hours of when you stop hiking.
If you are prone to having your fingers or hands swell, I recommend removing rings before you start your hike.
Those who routinely keep their hands busy while hiking rarely have problems with swelling. This has more to do with promoting circulation than fighting gravity.
That said, the most common way for people to consciously fight swelling is to use thumb loops attached to their shoulder straps. Using thumb straps to hold your hands up can successfully fight the gravity that contributes to peripheral edema.
Even before I started using hiking poles, I did not use thumb straps. I wanted my hands free in case I stumbled. The thought of my thumbs getting caught in a position where I couldn't use my hands to break my falls was just a bit scary to me. Then again, I've since realized that not all trails are as rough as those in the White Mountains of New Hampshire and many trails are smooth enough to not need hands free at all times.
Isometrics with your fingers, hands, and arms may help improve circulation in your hands and fingers and prevent swelling - even if your arms are swinging by your sides. Or, pretend you're playing piano as you hike - but you still have to concentrate on tightening all of your muscles, not just the few necessary to get your fingers to move.
Personally, I find doing isometrics while hiking is a bit impractical and I usually forget to do them.
One of those squishy hand strengthening balls would probably do the trick. Or a stick you pick up along the way.
The most common way for people to unconsciously fight swelling is through the use of hiking poles. Hikers who use poles almost never have problems with swollen fingers. I think it's the fact that you are actually using the muscles in your arms, hands, and fingers when you use hiking poles that promotes circulation and prevents the swelling. It doesn't seem to matter whether poles are long or short that prevents swelling. Nor does going up or down hill matter. Just the fact that I'm using them regardless of whether my forearms are above or below horizontal.
So, whether you use poles, thumb straps, or nothing... if you are prone to swelling, just do something to promote circulation in your hands as you hike.
Last updated, June 28, 2013.
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