Swollen Fingers and Toes After Running: Causes and Quick Fixes

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Cross Training For Runners
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David Dack

Ever find yourself finishing a run and noticing your fingers and toes looking puffier than usual?

You’re not alone.

Swollen fingers and toes after a run are common among runners. It might raise an eyebrow or two, but worry not, because we’re diving deep into this mystery.

In today’s article, I’m going to demystify the swelling phenomenon that often accompanies your post-run cool-down.

We’ll uncover the physiological reasons behind it and arm you with practical tips to keep those digits in check.

Ready to jump in? Let’s roll!

The Science of Swelling

So, what’s the deal with swollen fingers and toes after a run? Well, it all comes down to science. When we run, our bodies do some fascinating things. One of those things is increasing blood flow to our hardworking muscles. Now, this shift in blood flow can cause the blood vessels in our hands to widen, leading to that pesky swelling.

But wait, there’s more. Exercise also triggers vasodilation, which is just a fancy word for blood vessels expanding to accommodate the increased blood flow. Combine this with gravity, and you’ve got a recipe for blood pooling in your fingers and toes, causing even more swelling.

Plus, microtears in our muscles and venous valves (known as venous insufficiency) can contribute to fluid buildup and, you guessed it, more swelling.

What’s more?

When you run, your arms naturally assume a bent position at the elbows and are often held at or above waist level. This posture can hinder proper circulation in the fingers, potentially resulting in swelling.

Contributing Factors

Several factors can affect the swelling in your toes and fingers after running. These include:

  • Temperature: When it’s hot, your blood vessels tend to expand, which can increase swelling. Conversely, in cold weather, blood is directed to your body’s core to keep warm, potentially causing swelling when it returns to your extremities after warming up.
  • Hydration Status: Maintaining the right balance of fluids is crucial. Both dehydration and overhydration can disrupt your body’s sodium levels, which are important for regulating fluid balance. Any imbalance in sodium can contribute to swelling.
  • Running Duration and Intensity. The longer and/or more intense you run, the more noticeable the swelling due to prolonged increased blood flow and pressure on the feet.

Swollen Hands and Toes While Running – Solutions

Dealing with swollen toes and fingers after a run is all about finding the right balance. Here are some strategies that might help:

Proper Arm Mechanics:

Let your arms swing naturally and keep them slightly lower than your heart.  You should also keep your hands relaxed while running. Avoid clenching your fists or holding them too tightly, as this can impede blood flow.

This can improve circulation and reduce swelling in your fingers.

Stay Hydrated, but Not Too Much:

Hydration is crucial for maintaining fluid balance, but drinking excessive amounts of water can lead to swelling, especially in your hands and feet. Be mindful of your water intake, and if you’re running a marathon or long distance, watch out for signs of overhydration like nausea and vomiting.

Replace Your Electrolytes

Salt plays a key role in preventing tissue swelling. If you’re sweating a lot during your run, you may lose sodium, which can contribute to swelling. Replenish lost electrolytes by drinking sports drinks, using gels, taking salt shots, or snacking on salty foods like pretzels.

Spacious Toe Box and Arch Support:

Look for running shoes with a roomy toe box and adequate arch support. This allows your toes to splay naturally and provides stability and alignment for your feet. Make sure the shoes match your foot type and running style.

Consider Sizing:

Opt for shoes that are at least half a size larger than your regular street shoes. Feet tend to swell during exercise, so by going half a size up, you can prevent tightness and discomfort. It’s also a good idea to try on shoes after a run when your feet are naturally swollen, which is why I always recommend buying shoes in the late evening.

Moisture-Wicking Socks:

Choose socks made from moisture-wicking materials to keep your feet dry and comfortable. These socks help prevent friction and heat buildup, which can contribute to swelling and blisters.

Foot-Strengthening Exercises:

Add in foot-strengthening exercises into your routine to improve stability and reduce the risk of toe swelling. Exercises like toe curls, toe spreads, and calf raises can help strengthen the muscles in your feet and lower legs, making them more resilient to the demands of running.

Elevate and Relieve

After your run, take some time to elevate your feet. This helps promote blood and fluid circulation, reducing swelling. Simply prop your feet up on a pillow or ottoman while relaxing

Elevate Your Hands Post-Run:

Similar to elevating your feet, raising your hands above heart level can encourage blood flow back to your heart, minimizing swelling. You can achieve this by simply raising your arms above your head for a few minutes post-run.

Analyze Your Stride:

Consider getting a professional analysis of your running gait or consulting a running coach. Adjusting your stride and form can alleviate pressure on your toes and reduce the risk of swelling.

Diverse Terrain Exploration

Mix up your running routine by alternating between different surfaces. Running on softer surfaces like grass or trails can reduce the impact on your toes compared to harder surfaces like pavement. This variety can help prevent overuse injuries and swelling.

When to Seek Medical Help:

Normal post-run swelling is mild and goes away within a few hours. But swelling in both hands or feet is usually normal. But if one side is significantly more swollen or comes with severe pain, redness, or heat, it could be a problem. Numbness, tingling, or skin color changes could indicate nerve or blood flow issues.

Overall, contact your doctor if:

  1. The swelling persists and hampers movement.
  2. You experience severe pain or skin discoloration.
  3. You have pre-existing health conditions like heart disease, kidney problems, or diabetes and notice changes in swelling.
  4. The swelling appears suddenly with symptoms like shortness of breath or chest pain, which might indicate a blood clot.


Swollen fingers and toes are common among runners, but you can manage and prevent them.

Pay attention to your running form, gear, and lifestyle. Consult healthcare professionals when in doubt.

Keep running, and don’t let swelling hold you back from your goals.

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