Swollen hands when hiking
March 12, 2006 8:51 PM   Subscribe

When I walk/hike for any length of time, my hands swell and fill with blood, turning bright red to purple. It's painful, and scares the hell out of my wife. What's going on?
posted by jsteward to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total)
Sounds like Raynaud's Phenomenon to me. But I'm not a doctor.
posted by BiffSlamkovich at 8:56 PM on March 12, 2006

not a doctor, but whenever i go on long (> 2hrs) hikes, i get a milder-sounding version of the same thing. my hands feel heavy and full of blood, though they don't change color or hurt anything.

i always attributed it to the repeated arm-swinging motion that goes with walking causing the blood to pool at the end of the limb. mine goes away if i hold my hands over my head for a minute or two and gravity pull the blood back downhill. does this work for you?
posted by sergeant sandwich at 9:00 PM on March 12, 2006

It sounds like the opposite of Raynaud's phenomenon. With that (annoying but harmless) disorder, you would experience vasoconstriction (loss of blood to extremeties); however, what you describe is vasodilation. I am sorry I can't be more helpful here, but this doesn't seem like Raynaud's phenomenon/disease. You should talk to a real doctor.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 9:17 PM on March 12, 2006

The Sarge is on the right track - blood is pooling in your hands, especially (as SS says) if you're swinging them. Ray Jardine (a fairly well-known and respected long-distance hiker, author, and equipment designer) mentions this in at least one of his books. He says he always walks with one hand up at shoulder level, thumb hooked under the strap of his pack on that side, and switches every once in a while. This seems to help him avoid this.
posted by attercoppe at 9:25 PM on March 12, 2006

This has happened to me (I get it from my father) since I was a child. Long walks aren't required, I'm not really sure what the combo is. Sometimes I can walk for hours with no issues, I can go back to the same place some other day and it begins to happen in 5 minutes. I get very swollen hands (to the point of not being able to bend my fingers much), and they burn and itch like the devil, till I want to claw my skin off. It's painful and miserable, and it takes hours to go away.

My father swears that walking in air conditioning does it to him... Walking in a mall is a guaranteed trigger. I find that it doesn't really matter where I walk.

I asked my doctor about this when I was in my early 20s, and he said that about the only way to avoid such a thing would be to walk around with my hands above my head at all times. It was obviously a joke, and a dismissive response. I'd assumed it was harmless because of that, and always put it down to bad circulation.

Don't know if it's the same thing, but if it is, that's all I know about it.
posted by FortyT-wo at 9:28 PM on March 12, 2006

I get a mild version of this when I wear a pack and it's warm or hot. I always thought it had to do with the straps of the pack cutting off blood flow in my shoulders or something like that. Hooking my thumbs in the packstrap at chest height makes it goes away.
posted by fshgrl at 9:39 PM on March 12, 2006

I too get a milder, non-painful version of this, as does my dad. We call it Puffy Hand Syndrome.
posted by danb at 9:43 PM on March 12, 2006

I think everyone's right on track. If you're wearing a pack with straps over your shoulders, you're likely restricting venous return, making it tough for the veins in your arms to get the blood back to the heart. Meanwhile the arteries, which have the power of awesome in the form of a higher blood pressure, are able to pump through whatever is restricting the flow at the shoulders. Net result: more blood goes in and less blood comes out of your arms.

Worsened by gravity and swinging of arms.

Things you could try: take breaks and take your pack off. Raise your arms above the heartline. Flex or massage the muscles in your hands, forearms and upper arms. If this helps, great! If not, go see someone.

I do not think it's Raynaud's.
posted by herrdoktor at 10:53 PM on March 12, 2006

You could try seeing if carrying less weight in your pack helps, too, or getting a new pack with wider shoulder straps and/or better padding. And if you're not already doing this, always packing the heavy stuff way down the bottom, and make sure your hip strap is snug enough that most of the pack weight's taken by your pelvis instead of your shoulders.
posted by flabdablet at 4:39 AM on March 13, 2006

Same happens here, with or without backpack. I find that if I raise both arms in the air for about 30-40 seconds every 5 minutes or so, it solves the problem. Sort of like stretching your arms and letting the accumulated blood drain back to the heart.
posted by RMALCOLM at 9:58 AM on March 13, 2006

Thanks, everyone. I usually alleviate it by walking with my hands in the air. It's awkward, but it helps.
posted by jsteward at 7:19 PM on March 13, 2006

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