67—What is the 'go' with

Sausage Fingers

Naturopath Lisa Fitzgibbon taking a walk through the bush on Waiheke Island

Even if they liked it, they couldn't put a ring on it!

I was speaking with a client the other day, and for some reason we ended up discussing, exercise-induced Sausage Fingers.

You know what I’m talking about, right? When you go out exercising (walking or running), you expect to improve the circulation in your body — but instead you wind up with swollen fingers and/or sausage hands.

The swelling dramatically interferes with your fine motor skills. This phenomenon could explain why some people are incapable of picking up their pooch’s doggy-doo while they’re out walking…

You'd be a right slapper — in this case!

There is something more worrying than losing the ability to bag-up canine poo:  in some cases your swollen hands feel so useless that it would be a real problem if someone were to attack you.

You’d have to defend yourself by frantically flapping your elbows about, hoping to slap ’em repeatedly in the head with the dead mitts at the ends of your arms!

Sausages are used to look like a ladies fingers to symbolise swollen fingers & hands

Gravity is such a downer

The swelling of these particular extremities (your hands and fingers), is considered a normal physiological response to certain exercises in which your mitts dangle at your sides1.

Note: Instead of swelling you may experience numbness in your lower arms and hands.

This swelling usually goes down within an hour if you do nothing about it. (We’ll discuss what to do about this uncomfortable condition below.)

The causes of this physiological response to exercise cannot be pinpointed to any one factor. But, in all likelihood, it stems from the accumulative effects of all of the theories below:

  1. Reduced blood flow to your hands

    When exercising, your heart, lungs, and muscles hog a great deal of your total blood supply.

    The reduced blood flow to your hands means that they cool down. The blood vessels respond to this by dilating (opening wider) which causes oedema (swelling).

  2. Increased blood flow to your hands!

    Blood flows to your hands and fingers at a faster rate because of ‘The law of gravity’ and due to all the arm swinging.

    However,  because the arms have much smaller blood vessels than the legs — it is hard work for them to return all that extra blood flow back to the heart particularly when working against gravity.

    The swelling of the hands therefore is essentially trapped blood (and lymph).

  3. Increased heat generated by your working muscles

    When exercising your body needs to dissipate heat by directing blood to the vessels closest to the surface of your body.

    This mechanism can trigger swollen hands and/or sausage fingers.

  4. Lymphatic system congestion

    The lymphatic system works as part of the circulatory system. It carries lymph (a clear fluid), back towards the heart.

    There are many reasons why you may have a congested lymphatic system: excessive stress, nutrient deficiencies (iodine), excessive ‘acid forming’ foods in your diet, taking prescription medicines, cigarette smoking, exposure to pesticides, and consumption of food additives.

    Note: You may find that if you have a congested lymphatic system that you get swollen hands and/or swollen fingers even when you’re not exercising!

Lisa says:

Exercise your fingers as well as your legs

Pump those digits — at about the speed of your heart beat! (Which could be fairly quick depending on how hard you’re exercising.)

— Bend your fingers up and down at the first joint.
— Make a fist, then fully release it to a flat palm (with outstretched fingers.)

Using this method is not only discreet but it can help prevent the swelling of your hands and fingers. (It can also work after-the-fact.) Perform either of these exercises (in sets of 10) as you think of it when you’re out walking or running.

Wave your hands in the air like you just don't care

If you raise your extremities above your head, then the blood flow can quickly work with gravity.

Note: You only need to do this action when you feel your hands and fingers are beginning to be effected!

Avoid substances that mess with your vascular system

You may find that the swelling of your hands can sometimes be worse than others. This may be due to factors such as weather/temperature, stress, hydration levels, and the intensity of the exercise.

You may also find that the swelling is more of an issue for you if you have caffeine before you exercise. Caffeine will increase your blood pressure which intensifies blood flow.

Consider your lymphatic system function

If you try these tips, and you still find that you have a problem with sausage fingers and/or  sausage hands, it would pay to consult with your Naturopath and/or Medical Herbalist.

We can advise you on the different ways that you can increase the function of your lymphatic system.

Now put your hands up! Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh. Wuh uh oh uh uh oh oh uh oh uh uh oh.

Make an appointment with Lisa

Lisa Fitzgibbon is a degree qualified (2006), experienced and registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist. She runs her own private practice – OOMPH in Grey Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand.

Lisa has been involved in the Natural Health industry for 16 years. She draws on her professional training and experience, as well as her own personal experience to bring you realistic, holistic health advice.

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