Carpal Tunnel vs. Arthritis

You rely on the use of your hands for almost everything you do on a daily basis. But when you have constant pain and discomfort in your hands and wrists, these simple tasks become more difficult and uncomfortable. Two big culprits of this type of pain are carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), conditions infamous for the pain and discomfort they cause the hands and wrists. Since these conditions both lead to a similar type of pain, they can be easily confused. In actuality, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis are different conditions.

Both arthritis and CTS are potential culprits for hand pain and numbness. Arthritis raises the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome. Plus, CTS symptoms can be very similar to arthritis symptoms, so it's important to know the characteristics of this condition.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

The carpal tunnel is on the palm side of your wrist, surrounded by bones and ligaments. It protects a main nerve to your hand, known as the median nerve, as well as the nine tendons that bend your fingers. The median nerve provides sensation to the palm side of your thumb and fingers, except your little finger. It also provides nerve signals to move the muscles around the base of your thumb.

This condition causes a tingling and numbness in your fingers and hand, often when you’re holding a steering wheel, phone, magazine or a computer mouse. This sensation can even wake you up from sleeping and may extend from your wrist up your arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome stems from anything that crowds, irritates or compresses the median nerve, such as a wrist fracture, swelling or inflammation.


In mild cases of this disorder, you can ease discomfort by taking frequent breaks to rest your hands, avoiding activities that worsen your symptoms, and even apply cold packs to reduce any swelling and inflammation. If these don’t relieve your symptoms within a few weeks, your doctor may recommend additional options such as wrist splinting, medications, or surgery, depending on how advanced the disorder is.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

RA is an autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic inflammation, typically affecting the small joints in your hands as well as your feet. This condition isn’t caused by wear and tear, but rather it occurs when your immune system attacks your body’s own tissues. Specifically, it targets the lining of your joints, leading to painful swelling that can cause severe joint problems.


Although there isn’t a cure for RA, there are medications available to reduce joint inflammation, relieving pain and slowing joint damage. If you have RA, your rheumatologist may recommend occupational or physical therapy so you can learn to protect your joints and keep them flexible. If RA severely damages joints, surgery may be necessary.

If you would like to find out more information about rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, call OrthoUnited at (844) 469-2663 to request an appointment.