What to Do for Swollen Hands


Many Reasons, Same Result

Swelling — what your doctor may call edema — can be short-lived or long-term. Sometimes tiny blood vessels in your hands leak fluid. This could build up and cause swelling. It can happen during pregnancy or after an injury. Some medicines can lead to swelling. Regardless of why it’s happening, you want to be able to use your hands and get things done.

Double-Handed Lift

Grab with both hands instead of one when you’re picking up something heavy, like a filled pot or pan. That little move will spare the small joints in your fingers extra strain. Other ways to save your hands? Push doors open with your whole body instead of just your fingertips. Carry a shoulder bag, not a handheld purse. Slide objects across a counter or floor when you can, rather than picking them up.

Finger Exercises

Moving the muscles in your hand can help pump extra fluid out. Try this: Start with your hand and fingers pointing up. Hook your fingers so the tips touch the top of your palm, hold for 5 seconds, then straighten them. Next, make a fist, count to 5, and release. Then bend your fingers so the tips touch the bottom of your palm, hold for 5, and stretch them back up. Ask your doctor what other hand exercises are good for you.


Put lotion on your swollen hand and settle it in a comfy spot in front of you, about shoulder-high. Start at the tips, and use long, smooth strokes to rub your fingers toward your hand and wrist. Keep the pressure firm, but don’t push so hard that it hurts. Stroking the swollen area toward your heart can help move the excess fluid out.

Cold Packs

Ice cubes in a zipper-lock bag or a bag of frozen veggies will work, too. The effect is the same: Cold helps lessen swelling. Wrap a thin towel around the pack so it doesn’t irritate your skin. Put it on your hand for 10 minutes, then 10 minutes off, and another 10 minutes on. Do no more than 20 minutes total of cold at a time.

Therapy Gloves

They’re made to fit snug, and their job is to keep pressure on your hand so fluid doesn’t build up. Several studies found that wearing therapy gloves improved swelling, as well as stiffness and pain, for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Some gloves cover your whole hand; others have the fingertips cut out so you can feel and grip things.

Skip the Salt

One teaspoon of the stuff has 2,300 milligrams of sodium — an entire day’s worth for most people. Salt makes your body hang on to water, which can make any swelling even worse. Instead, use herbs, spices, garlic, and citrus juices to add flavor to your foods.

… And Super Salty Foods

How bad can it be? A can of chicken noodle soup may be loaded with as much as 940 milligrams of sodium in 1 little cup. Deli meat is no better: 2 ounces (often just a few slices) has about half of your daily sodium. Lots of sodium hides in breads and rolls, pizza, and processed chicken nuggets, too. Compare labels when you’re shopping, and choose foods with the least sodium per serving.

The Right Tool for the Job

Some items are made with your swollen and stiff joints in mind, like easy-grip pens, spring-action scissors, and nonslip jar openers. Trade in your glass mixing bowls for lighter plastic or melamine versions. Have lever-style faucet handles installed so you don’t have to grip and turn for water in the kitchen and bathroom. Look for storage with lids that lift off or flip open easily. Avoid small parts or complicated latches.

When Working Out

Experts don’t know exactly why some people’s hands tend to swell during exercise or how to prevent it, but you can still take steps to be comfortable. Take off your rings and loosen wristbands before you get started. Do forward and backward arm circles now and then during your workout, or stretch your fingers wide and then make fists, to help move that fluid.

Modified Jewelry

Can’t imagine working a necklace clasp with fat fingers? You can get magnetic fasteners that connect to any necklace or bracelet so they’re easy to get on and off. Some jewelry makers design rings that expand so you don’t have to slide them over a swollen knuckle.

Magnesium When PMS-ing

It’s not just your belly that bloats when you’re about to get your period. Your hands (and feet) can swell, too. One study found that taking 200 milligrams of magnesium a day helped women with this symptom retain less water. Some research suggests calcium, certain B vitamins, and vitamin E may work, too. Talk to your doctor before you take any supplements to make sure they’re safe for you.

Raise ‘Em Up

Try to get your swollen hand above your heart many times each day to give gravity a chance to pull some of the fluid out. At night, place your hand and forearm on a stack of pillows so the fluid can drain away while you sleep.

Treat the Underlying Cause

With rheumatoid arthritis, swelling happens around a single joint. Psoriatic arthritis can make the whole length of your finger swell up like a sausage. It’s also a symptom of more serious conditions, like heart failure, kidney damage, or problems with your lymphatic system, which helps clear extra fluid from tissues in your body. If you have a medical condition, follow your doctor’s instructions.

Take Care

Do your best to protect your fingers. An injury to the skin over a swollen area can take longer to heal, and it’s more likely to get infected.

If the swollen spot hurts or feels warm, if there’s redness or an open sore, or if you feel short of breath, call your doctor.