DENVER (KDVR) — Have you ever been hiking or running, and your fingers started to swell? You are not alone. In fact, this happens to many people, especially during the summertime.

Dr. William Cornwell at UCHealth said there are several factors that can cause your hands and feet to swell while you hike and exercise.

“First and foremost, when you exercise there is a marked increase in the amount of blood flow that travels throughout your body, and that includes your hands and feet,” Cornwell said. “The second thing, when you are running, hiking, those sorts of things, your hands are in somewhat of a dependent position, meaning that gravity is going to pull fluid down into your feet and hands as well, and that make it a little harder for the blood flow to get back up into your central cavity and your central chest.”

Here are some other things that can make your hands swell while you are hiking:

  • Watches, jewelry
  • Backpacks
  • Tight-fitting clothing

Temperature can also make your hands swell.

“When it’s hot outside, your blood vessels are going to relax or vasodilate in an effort to try to keep your body temperature where it needs to be, so you’ll sweat more. Your body will actually use your hands and feet quite a bit to regulate your internal temperature where it needs to be at all times,” Cornwell explained.

How do I prevent it from happening?

Cornwell said there is not a pill or anything you can take to prevent the swelling from happening, but you can be smart and aware.

You can do the following to help with the swelling:

  • Avoid wearing tight-fitting clothing
  • Avoid wearing tight watches or smart bands
  • Don’t wear your backpack too tight

“You can hold your arms above your head to use gravity to your advantage to help get blood flow out of your hands and back into your central cavity,” Cornwell said.

When should I be concerned?

One thing you should keep an eye on is a hyponatremia, which means a low sodium level in your blood. It is a condition that can happen if you are sweating a lot or exercising in very hot temperatures.

Cornwell said it can be a dangerous or life-threatening scenario. It can also cause your hands to swell, but other symptoms can accompany the swelling:

  • Confusion
  • Changes in neurological function
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

“We always encourage people to be mindful of where you are and what you are doing, especially in Colorado when you are out in the middle of nowhere with limited access to medical care, your friends and family don’t know where you are or what you are doing, those are the types of things you want to avoid,” Cornwell said. “You always want to be smart.”

He said that it is important to always have a plan while hiking or spending time in the outdoors.

These are some important things to know before you head out for a hike:

1. Plan your route ahead of time

If you have decided that you want to attempt a 14er or any other hike, you will want to plan your route ahead of time. Some climbs are more difficult than others. There is always the possibility that some trails are covered or buried in snow.

A great tool to help you decide which peak you are going to attempt and how difficult that peak will be is the “14er routes by difficulty” list on 14ers.com.

There are six different categories of climbs that range from the easiest at Class 1 to the most difficult at Class 4.

2. Tell someone where you’re going

It is important to make sure you tell someone where you are going. You will want to tell them the following:

  • Where you are going- providing specific coordinates is helpful
  • What time you are leaving
  • How long you expect it to take you to summit
  • Contact information

Most importantly, take someone with you while you are attempting to climb a mountain.

3. Have the proper gear

Having the proper gear while attempting to summit a 14er is crucial. It can be the difference between success and a failed attempt. It’s also important to expect the unexpected when hiking a 14er. Weather can change at a moment’s notice.

Here are some of the items you’ll want to have with you while hiking a 14er:

  • Hiking shoes/boots
  • Hiking socks
  • Layers of clothing: Light shirt, long sleeves, light jacket, rain poncho, sweatshirt, coat, leggings, hiking pants, shorts
  • Extra pair of socks
  • Gloves
  • Hat/Beanie
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunblock
  • Plenty of water, a water bladder
  • Inhaler (if you have one)
  • Chapstick
  • Hiking backpack
  • Watch/Compass/Cell Phone
  • First Aid kit
  • Portable phone charger
  • Toilet paper

Don’t count on your cell phone. Expect your battery to die or your phone to not have service. Have a second form of satellite communication, like InReach.

14ers.com has an extensive list of gear.

4. Pack food

One of the most important things you will need to have with you is food. Many people take protein bars, trail mix and beef jerky. There is no such thing as too much food. Focus on carbohydrates and hydration. If you get injured or lost while hiking, food could be the difference between life and death.

The Next Summit created a long list of specific snacks to take along on your next hike.

5. Watch the weather and start early

Colorado weather can change in the blink of an eye, especially in the mountains. The rule of thumb when hiking Colorado’s mountains is to be off the summit by noon, when lightning storms can typically roll in. Starting your summit attempt early is important.

The first rule of lightning: Get to a lower elevation. This should be your first priority. In order to maximize your chances of surviving a nearby lightning strike, you need to stand in “lightning position” until the storm passes:

  • Keep away from anything metal that could be a conductor for electricity
  • Crouch down, like a baseball catcher
  • Stand on the balls of your feet only, with your heels lifted off the ground
  • Make sure your elevated heels are touching each other. In the event of a strike, electricity will travel in one foot and out the other, instead of throughout your body
  • Cover your ears and close your eyes to protect from the loud clap of thunder and bright flash of light
  • Stay in the lightning position until you no longer feel threatened by lightning

Safety experts advise all visitors to the high country to be prepared for all weather conditions and follow recommended safety practices, like dressing in layers and never hiking alone.

Be sure to download the free Pinpoint Weather App to stay up-to-date with the newest data as it comes in.

6. Go at your own pace

There is no rule that says you must finish a hike at record pace. Attempting to summit quicker than you are capable could lead you to injury, exhaustion, and a failed summit.

7. Altitude

The Colorado welcome center said altitude sickness is brought on by a lack of oxygen to your body and a failure to acclimate to air that has less oxygen. It can be caused by going too high, too fast.

The Colorado visitor’s center shared the following tips:

  • Drink plenty of water; replenishing fluids helps to stabilize your body. You should do this a few days in advance as well.
  • Take it easy; don’t over-exert yourself. Maybe start with a 10er, 11er, 12er or 13er first. 
  • Experts recommend eating a high carbohydrate diet while at altitude.
  • Keep alcohol intake and smoking to a minimum.
  • Remember that altitude sickness can affect anybody, even top-flight athletes.
  • Most importantly: if you’re not feeling well, let someone know.

8. Stay on the trail

The trails were created as a guide to get you to the top of a mountain. Straying from those trails or attempting to take shortcuts could lead to injury or even death. Also, by sticking to the trails, you’re helping preserve nature.

9. Know your limits

If you are not feeling well, you get lost, or you are struggling with an injury, be prepared to call for help if you need to.

  • Have a COSAR card:

Get a Colorado Outdoor Recreation Search and Rescue Card:

If a search and rescue team incurs expenses during a mission, they don’t bill it to the person they
helped. They (or the county sheriff under whom they operate) absorb that cost. Buying a CORSAR Card helps ensure that a county sheriff and the SAR team are financially prepared for the next mission — just as they were ready to help you because previous people they helped had a card and the team’s expenses were reimbursed. This card allows the responders to apply for reimbursement of extraordinary expenses, but not the normal operating or routine mission expenses.

10. Leave no trace

The organization “Leave No Trace” was created to protect the outdoors. It provides education, skills, research and, science to help people care for the outdoors. A partnership with Leave No Trace and the Colorado Tourism Office, these are the principles created for our state:

  • Know before you go
  • Stick to trails
  • Leave it as you find it
  • Trash the trash
  • Be careful with fire
  • Keep wildlife wild
  • Share the trails and parks

One of the most widely-used tools for 14ers is 14ers.com. From trip reports, to a swap shop, a forum and trail conditions, the site has crucial information for hikers attempting to summit a 14er.