Why Are My Fingers Swollen? Common Causes, Treatments, and PT-Approved Tips

Many issues can cause swelling in your fingers. Here’s how to relieve the puffiness and discomfort so you can feel better.

Published Date: Nov 27, 2023
hand-with-a-ring-and-swollen-fingers

Why Are My Fingers Swollen? Common Causes, Treatments, and PT-Approved Tips

Many issues can cause swelling in your fingers. Here’s how to relieve the puffiness and discomfort so you can feel better.

Published Date: Nov 27, 2023
hand-with-a-ring-and-swollen-fingers

Why Are My Fingers Swollen? Common Causes, Treatments, and PT-Approved Tips

Many issues can cause swelling in your fingers. Here’s how to relieve the puffiness and discomfort so you can feel better.

Published Date: Nov 27, 2023
hand-with-a-ring-and-swollen-fingers

Why Are My Fingers Swollen? Common Causes, Treatments, and PT-Approved Tips

Many issues can cause swelling in your fingers. Here’s how to relieve the puffiness and discomfort so you can feel better.

Published Date: Nov 27, 2023
hand-with-a-ring-and-swollen-fingers
Table of Contents

There’s nothing surprising about a finger swelling up after, say, accidentally slamming it in a door. That’s the type of swelling we can pinpoint — we understand where our pain is coming from and are reassured in knowing that it’s usually not cause for any major concern. But what if you notice that your rings suddenly no longer fit or that your fingers look puffier than normal? 

While it can be alarming to develop swollen fingers and joints with no known culprit or injury, much of the time, swollen fingers are simply an annoyance that can make it harder to do basic tasks, like text on the phone or button a shirt. However, in some cases, swollen fingers may be associated with other health conditions, like arthritis, says Laura Reising, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. 

The good news is that simple strategies, including exercises for your hands and fingers, can ease the swelling so your fingers return to their normal size and you’re able to get back to your usual hand function and daily activities.

Here, learn more about what causes swollen fingers — and find out how to feel better with tips from our Hinge Health physical therapists.

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Laura Reising, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Reising is a Hinge Health physical therapist and board-certified orthopedic specialist with over 10 years of experience. She specializes in performing arts medicine.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.

Why Are My Fingers Swollen?

There are many possible reasons your fingers might be swollen, ranging from eating high-sodium foods to potentially serious issues like inflammatory arthritis. Some possibilities may include: 

Fluid retention. When you eat too much salt, your body tries to dilute it by holding onto more water than usual. This may cause parts of your body, including your fingers, to visibly puff up. 

Heat. Taking a hot shower or spending time in hot and humid weather can cause blood vessels to expand and fluid to move into your hands (and feet) thanks to gravity. 

Pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, your body produces about 50% more fluid (including blood). This can lead to swelling in different body parts, especially in the hands and feet. Most of the time this isn’t anything to worry about, but if swelling in the hands or face comes on quickly and is severe — or if it’s accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath, or pain — call your doctor right away to rule out conditions such as preeclampsia.

Arthritis. Several types of arthritis may cause swelling in your fingers and joints. Osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and psoriatic arthritis (PsA) are among those that are most apt to cause this problem. Medications that treat arthritis symptoms may also help with swollen fingers, but not always. Whether you’re taking arthritis medication or not, physical therapy can be helpful for this issue, says Dr. Reising. 

Strain or sprain. You might have pulled your thumb or another finger back too far or otherwise moved in an awkward way that caused a minor injury like a finger sprain or strain, says Dr. Reising. 

Infection. If you’ve been picking at your cuticles or otherwise injured the tissue around your fingers, an infection could set in. Swelling is part of the body’s natural immune response. If you have one finger that’s very swollen, have trouble moving your fingers, or notice that touching your finger hurts a lot, see a doctor right away. 

Lymphedema. Swollen tissue, including in your arms, may result from a buildup of lymph fluid. This may occur in people who had their lymph nodes removed as part of breast cancer treatment, says Dr. Reising, though lymphedema sometimes happens without a clear clause. Typically, the entire arm will be swollen, including the fingers. Physical therapy can often help, but talk to your doctor first. 

Treatment Options for Swollen Fingers

If you think you might have an infection or lymphedema, start by talking to your doctor. Otherwise, there are many things you can do to treat swollen fingers at home with conservative measures, says Dr. Reising. Some options include:

  • Cool off. Try applying an ice pack to the swollen fingers for up to 10-15 minutes, suggests Dr. Reising. Remember to put a barrier (like a towel) between your skin and the ice. 

  • Try compression gloves. They’re sold over the counter and can sometimes help with swelling that’s persistent, such as in people who are pregnant or have arthritis. 

  • Elevate. Prop up your swollen hand on pillows so it’s higher than your heart, suggests Dr. Reising. 

  • Do a retrograde massage. Start with your hand above your head, then massage downward, says Dr. Reising: You want to move from your fingertips toward your hands, then from your hands toward your wrist, then from your wrist toward your arm. A physical therapist can perform this kind of massage or teach you how to do it yourself. (You can see a physical therapist in person or use a program like Hinge Health to access a PT via telehealth/video visit.)

  • Stretch and strengthen your fingers. “Bringing in motion can help flush excessive fluid out of the joint and out of the body,” says Dr. Reising.

Exercises for Swollen Fingers

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Hand Tendon Glides
  • Thumb Opposition
  • Towel Squeeze

These are good finger stretch and strengthening moves that Hinge Health physical therapists recommend. While you might think hand- and finger-focused exercises couldn’t possibly make a difference, think again. Movement and gentle exercises play an important role in helping to reduce swelling in fingers in most cases, says Dr. Reising. 

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Do This Simple Hand Stretch Daily

Try raising your hands up high for a few minutes, make a fist, and then spread your fingers out wide. Repeat several times. “This motion helps flush everything down, which can aid in reducing swelling,” says Dr. Reising. “I like to do this a lot when it’s hot outside.”

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Guo, L. (n.d.). Swollen Fingers: What Are They, Causes, Treatment, and More. Osmosis. https://www.osmosis.org/answers/swollen-fingers 

  2. Arthritis of the Hand. (2021, July 6). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7082-arthritis-of-the-wrist-and-hand 

  3. Hand Infections. (2019). American Family Physician, 99(4). https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2019/0215/p228-s1.html 

  4. Heat Edema (swelling). (2023, July 11). NewYork-Presbyterian. https://www.nyp.org/healthlibrary/definitions/heat-edema-swelling 

  5. LeWine, H. E. (2023, May 22). How much water should you drink? Harvard Health. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/how-much-water-should-you-drink 

  6. Lymphedema. (2017). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lymphedema/symptoms-causes/syc-20374682 

  7. Swollen Fingers. (n.d.). American Society for Surgery of the Hand. https://www.assh.org/handcare/condition/swollen-fingers 

  8. Things That Make You Swell When You’re Pregnant. (n.d.). UnityPoint Health. https://www.unitypoint.org/news-and-articles/things-that-make-you-swell-when-youre-pregnant---unitypoint-health