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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Arthritis?

NS2 Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Before you can cure your hand pain, you need to understand its source. Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel syndrome are common conditions that lead to hand discomfort. How can you tell if either—or both—of these disorders are the root of your issue?

Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel syndrome have similar effects, making it difficult to do routine tasks like getting dressed or brushing your teeth. Both can be set off by activity or repetitive motion. To know which condition you have, doctors look for unique signs and symptoms distinctive to each one.

This post examines the similarities and distinctions between Carpal Tunnel syndrome (CTS), Osteoarthritis, and Rheumatoid Arthritis.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The median nerve is compressed, causing CTS. The median nerve travels down from the forearm to the palm and is one of the primary nerves that supply the hand.

The Thumb side of the hand, index and middle finger, and a section of the ring finger are all affected by the median nerve. The carpal tunnel is a narrow channel through which the median nerve passes.

Swelling or irritation of the tendons might compress or squeeze the median nerve, narrowing the carpal tunnel. This can result in tingling or discomfort in the hand, wrist, or forearm.

CTS Symptoms

The gradually developing symptoms of CTS typically affect the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. People dealing with this condition may experience symptoms during both night and day, Including:

  • Itching, burning, or numbness in the fingers
  • Hand weakness or clumsiness
  • Not being able to distinguish between hot and cold temperatures by touch
  • Tingling or numbing feeling in the thumb and fingers

CTS Causes

The possibility of getting carpal tunnel syndrome rises if you have any of the following conditions or factors:

  • A wrist fracture or injury
  • Diabetes
  • Genetics
  • Heavy lifting or vibrating tools
  • Hormonal changes (Pregnancy)
  • Obesity
  • Repetitive motion
  • Some medications
  • Under-active thyroid gland (Hypothyroidism)

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is a form of joint inflammation. It may cause swelling, discomfort, and joint stiffness, restricting a person's mobility.

Arthritis that goes untreated may cause permanent damage to the joints and chronic pain. Different types of arthritis exist, with their own set of conditions. For example, some forms are brought on by infections or autoimmune reactions. All varieties stem from the deterioration of cartilage--the smooth layer at the end of bones that allows them to glide over one another frictionlessly. Here are two common types:

Osteoarthritis (OA)

OA is a debilitating condition caused by the deterioration of cartilage, which then causes bones to rub against each other painfully.

Symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Reduced range of movement in the joints
  • Swelling in and around affected joints
  • Unstable or loose feeling joints

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition. Individual's immune system can turn on itself and begin to destroy healthy tissue, bones, and joints. The vast majority affected by this condition are women between the ages of 30 and 50.

Symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Range of motion in the joints becomes reduced
  • Usually affects the small joints of the hands or feet
  • Energy reduction
  • Low-grade fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rheumatoid nodules are hard lumps that grow under the skin in areas of the body such as the hands and elbows.

Most Common Differences Between CTS & Arthritis

Arthritis might occasionally induce Carpal Tunnel syndrome or exacerbate it. Carpal Tunnel syndrome is not a type of arthritis and has nothing to do with it.

Key differences Include:


  • CTS-May be in one or both wrists
  • Osteoarthritis-Any joint, but usually larger joints, including wrists
  • Rheumatoid arthritis-Can be found in any joint, but generally smaller joints, including wrists


  • CTS-Repetitive movement and inflammation
  • Osteoarthritis-Wear and tear, repetitive motion, inflammation
  • Rheumatoid arthritis-Inflammation and joint damage


  • CTS-Thumb, index, and middle fingers, sometimes whole hand, wrist up to the arm and even shoulder or neck
  • Osteoarthritis-Ends of finger joints, the base of the thumb
  • Rheumatoid arthritis-Finger joints, the base of the thumb


  • CTS-Usually worse at night, in the morning, during certain activities (writing, typing, housework, etc.), or all-day
  • Osteoarthritis-Pain when moving, stiffness after resting or sleeping
  • Rheumatoid arthritis-Pain when moving, stiffness after resting or sleeping


  • CTS-Physical exam: Tinel's sign, Phalen test, nerve conduction test, ultrasound
  • Osteoarthritis-Physical exam, X-ray
  • Rheumatoid arthritis-Physical exam, blood test, X-ray


  • CTS-Splint or brace, pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, heat and cold therapy, corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, surgery
  • Osteoarthritis-Splint or brace, pain medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, heat and cold therapy, corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, surgery
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis-Splint or brace, pain medications, DMARDs, biologics, anti-inflammatory drugs, heat and cold therapy, corticosteroid injections, physical therapy, surgery

Differentiating Carpal Tunnel syndrome from Arthritis can be tricky because they share many symptoms. If you have any pain, numbness, or other symptoms in your hands and wrists, see your doctor as soon as possible.

If you wait too long to see your doctor, bones and nerves in the wrists and hands can become damaged or complicated.

NewSouth NeuroSpine is committed to helping patients with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. If you would like to learn more or schedule a consultation, request an appointment today.

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