Swelling, also known as oedema, is the accumulation of excessive fluid in the intercellular (between cells) spaces. The build-up of fluid involves a variety of factors. Our bodies undergo the inflammatory process virtually any time an injury or tissue damage occurs. Along with redness, heat and pain, swelling is a sign of the inflammatory process at work. When part of the body is injured, chemicals are released that act on our smallest blood vessels, called the capillaries. Why is this important?

These chemicals cause the capillaries to vasodilate, or widen, and leads to both an increase in blood flow and a leakage of fluid into the injured area. It also allows infection-fighting cells to enter the injury site. Swelling occurs as a result of this fluid leakage into the surrounding tissues.

Although the swelling is initially beneficial in terms of helping the injured area to heal and fight infection, swelling can be detrimental to your recovery and needs to be treated. If swelling in the hand or fingers are not treated it can cause joint stiffness and eventually prolonged swelling can turn into hardened scar tissue. When the swelling turns into hardened fibrotic tissue it then takes much longer to reduce the size of the hand or finger, sometimes this can even be permanent!

At Riverina Hand Therapy we treat swelling in a number of ways. This includes compression, manual massage, taping, cold therapy and early movement programmes where appropriate. This photo shows one of the common methods we use to keep swelling down in fingers, called a neoprene sleeve - these are custom-made on our sewing machine to fit each finger individually. The treatments we use are key to quickly reduce swelling!


Swelling can also be reduced through elevation post injury and surgery. Also continuing to be active post injury or surgery is important. Going for a walk will increase your heart rate. This in turn will help move the swelling out of your injured hand!

In cases where the swelling is moderate to severe, we have a diaphragmatic breathing and gentle body exercise programme for patients to undertake at home. Diaphragmatic breathing involves breathing deeply through the nose, causing the abdomen to expand, and then slowly exhaling through the mouth whilst engaging your abdominal muscles to push the air out. Diaphragmatic breathing changes the pressure within the body and intern helps to speed up the drainage of unwanted swelling. 

Management of your swelling is just one area of our holistic approach in treating your upper limb issue!