Hands swell while rucking? Reasons why and solutions

Having your hands swell while you’re rucking can be a painful and difficult thing to deal with. 

You’re going along on your ruck and you start to notice the swelling and the tightness.  It’s painful and downright frustrating and annoying.

So what’s causing it and how can you deal with it?

Well that’s what we’re going to look at today and see if we can’t find some solutions to the problem.  After all, rucking with yours hands swelling is going to take your mind off of more important things you need to focus on.

Let’s get into it.

What causes your hands to swell while rucking?

There are a number of potential causes and reasons as to why your hands swell while rucking.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

What is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome?

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is a catch-all term for a series of disorders that transpire due to compression, injury, or irritation of the nerves, blood vessels in the lower neck and upper chest area.

The condition is most prevalent in sports or activities that require repetitive arm motions.

That’s a lot and it can be scary.

Let’s translate that into something more easily understood so it’ll be less scary.

When you’re rucking, you’re putting a large amount of weight on your back.  In order to properly carry that weight, the ruck keeps the weight up on your shoulders and upper back.

As a result, there is a lot of pressure on your ruck’s shoulder straps.

As you can guess, where your shoulder straps sit thus has a big impact.

The straps push into your shoulders, putting pressure on a nerve cluster there.  

This can cause your hands to swell, potentially giving you a tingling sensation or more.

Additionally you may also feel the numbness from this in your triceps.  

So what are some solutions?

Let’s take a look.

Solutions for Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

There are a few potential solutions that may help you.  One or more may be what you need, so don’t be afraid to try each one out.  

Adjust the Straps

A quick way to reduce the hands swell experience is to adjust your shoulder straps. 

Adjusting the straps, both where they are on your shoulders and how much weight they prop up on your shoulders can go a long way.

Bear in mind that loosening the straps can give you back trouble however, because you’re lowering where the load sits on your back.

Where the load sits affects your posture and bad posture can have a big impact on your ability to ruck effectively.

Instead, opt to try to move the straps as best you can.

Sternum Strap

A rucker utilizing a sternum strap

The sternum strap is a powerful tool in a rucker’s arsenal.  Designed to help accommodate weight placement issues, the sternum strap is a strap that, as it sounds, goes across the chest, across the sternum.

The strap will help to get the shoulder straps off the front of the shoulders as well as generally help with weight placement and distribution.  

Consider using it generally, and you will see some great benefits.

Lighten the Load

We placed this one last because it’s the least desirable solution.  The last thing you want to go is to take a step back when it comes to your rucking journey and we understand that completely.

But sometimes, taking one step back allows you to take two steps forward.

You may need to lighten the load to stop hands swell from happening.  

It’s not going to be a permanent thing, it’s about getting your body more accustomed to the weight you’re trying to carry.  

Gradual increases are going to be your friend.  Slow and steady wins the race after all.

Carry something / Make fists

Consider carrying a walking stick on your rucks.  You will be able to grip the stick, keeping blood flowing for your hand.  

A walking stick also serves other purposes of helping you with balance issues, particularly if you’re rucking over uneven terrain.

As an alternative, you can also move your fingers and making fists, working the muscles in the forearm to get the blood moving.  

Care for the Body

Last but not least and more than likely in addition to the above, is utilizing some strong recovery techniques and tactics.

Icing and/or heating, proper stretching, mobility exercises.  

These are all things that are going to help you a lot more than you think.  

As we often say, rucking does not appear to be a strenuous exercise.  But in actuality, it truly is.  

Caring for your body is important to your journey.


Another potential cause is hyponatremia.  

This is a condition where you develop abnormally low levels of sodium concentration. 

Physical exertion can cause you to suffer hyponatremia, particularly if you’re also having a large amount of water intake.  

The condition is actually quite normal, as a regular bodily reaction to exercise.  However it can be frustrating to deal with, especially when you are on a ruck due to the time commitment.  

Dealing with hands swell is not a fun experience for multiple hours.  

So how can we deal with hyponatremia?

One solution is to use salt tabs or to have snacks with you that are higher in salt.  These will help replenish the salt you’re losing through your sweat.

Another way consists of one of the methods suggested above if it’s a shoulder strap/thoracic outlet syndrome situation:

Keep your arms moving and periodically clench and unclench a fist.


As you can see there’s no need to be that worried when your hands swell during rucking.  Especially not if you follow our guide above.

There are solutions and ways to head off anything bad that might happen.

So get on back out there.

Happy trails.