Do You Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Or Arthritis?

If you are experiencing weakness, numbness, or pain in your hand, you may suspect carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome often occurs when the median nerve — the main nerve in your forearm — becomes compressed and irritated, often due to repetitious or strenuous tasks. You'll want to visit your doctor for a firm diagnosis of the issue. Read on to see why arthritis can sometimes be confused with carpal tunnel syndrome.

What Is Arthritis?

When people think of arthritis, they usually think of a condition that causes inflammation and pain in joints. However, there isn't just one type of arthritis — the Arthritis Foundation says that there are more than 100 types of arthritis-related conditions. Some of these conditions not only cause inflammation in joints, but they can cause tendons and tendon sheathes to swell. Some types, like psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis, can cause enthesitis, which is inflammation near ligament and tendon insertion points.

How Can Arthritis Affect the Median Nerve?

The carpal tunnel is the narrow passageway that houses the median nerve. This passageway is surrounded by ligaments and tendons which work to flex your fingers. As you can imagine, if you have a type of arthritis, like psoriatic arthritis, that affects ligaments and tendons, then it's possible that the carpal tunnel can become compressed due to that condition rather than from repetitive activity.

When Should You Check for Arthritis?

Again, you should visit your doctor for a firm diagnosis, but you may want to check for arthritis rather than carpal tunnel syndrome if you

  • Have symptoms in both of your hands (carpal tunnel syndrome will usually only present on one side)
  • Don't play a sport or have a job with repetitive hand/arm motions
  • Don't find relief with splints and OTC medications
  • Develop other symptoms, like fatigue, psoriasis, joint swelling, etc.

Ultimately, getting to the root cause of the pain is beneficial because if the symptoms are caused by arthritis, then you may need a different treatment route and be able to avoid carpal tunnel surgery.

How Is Arthritic Pain in the Carpal Tunnel Treated?

Your doctor can prescribe anti-inflammatories to help you manage the pain. While rest and bracing work with carpal tunnel syndrome, they aren't effective treatments for arthritis. To treat the issue, your doctor may use a cortisone injection directly in the area to relieve any nerve compression. Your doctor may also recommend other medications, low-impact exercises/stretches, hydrotherapy, massage, and other modalities to help you manage the condition.

Reach out to a rheumatologist in your area for more information.