Over the years, you've probably heard about the risk of carpal tunnel, arthritis, or wrist tendonitis in people who spend most of their time typing in front of a computer. It's a scary thought because technology is becoming a huge part of our everyday lives.
If you experience pain in one or both hands, you may be wondering if carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, or tendonitis are causing your pain. While all three conditions can cause pain, there are several key differences between the three. Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause weakness, tingling, or numbness in the hand. Arthritis can also cause pain and make it difficult to grab things, but for a completely different reason. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by pinched nerves, while arthritis is caused by inflammation and joint damage.
carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve in the wrist is pinched. This can cause numbness or tingling in the entire hand and from the thumb to the ring finger. Many patients are more prone to these symptoms at night, and sometimes the pain is enough to wake them up.
Treatment: Depending on the severity of the case, your doctor may recommend a range of different treatments. For most people, wearing a wrist brace, occupational therapy, or steroid injections can help relieve or reduce these symptoms. Your doctor will always try to treat carpal tunnel without invasive methods first, but many severe cases require surgery. Surgery is used to repair nerve damage and allow your wrist and hand to return to normal activity.
Wrist tendonitis occurs when any of the tendons in the wrist become inflamed. About 10 or so tendons may be affected. This condition can cause the wrist to swell. Sometimes symptoms develop after a wrist injury.
Treatment: If you do experience symptoms, consider taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication (think Aleve or ibuprofen) before seeing your doctor. You can even try icing your wrists. Most doctors will recommend that you do these things before recommending other treatments. Like carpal tunnel, wrist tendonitis can be treated with wrist braces, steroid injections, and occupational therapy. Unlike carpal tunnel, however, surgery is not used to treat this condition.
Overall, the biggest difference between carpal tunnel syndrome and carpal tendinitis is that one affects the nerves and the other affects the tendons.
Unfortunately, there isn't much you can do to prevent these from happening. Although typing and other repetitive office tasks may not be the cause of carpal tunnel or tendonitis, they can exacerbate the problem and cause more pain. Therefore, the best practice is still to rest and practice proper body posture to avoid injury.
Carpal Tunnel and Arthritis
If you've ever put your hand or leg "sleep" because the pressure temporarily cut off the blood supply, you can know what the carpal tunnel feels like. The tingling, burning sensation is similar to numbness caused by compression of the median nerve, which runs in a narrow tunnel-like structure formed by bone and connective tissue from the elbow to the hand. The tendons and median nerve allow your fingers to flex and stretch.
The median nerve transmits impulses from the palm side to the index, middle, and ring fingers, as well as the thumb. If the tunnel tissues become irritated (usually due to pressure from repetitive movements such as typing), they can swell and put pressure on the nerve.
However, arthritis of the hand is caused by a different mechanism, usually in a specific pattern in the way it attacks the joints. In the case of arthritis, the lining of the joint itself (the synovium) becomes inflamed. This can be due to osteoarthritis (also known as wear arthritis) or other inflammatory processes caused by a defective immune response, in which the body attacks otherwise healthy tissue. Symptoms of arthritis include stiffness and soreness in the joints and usually begin in the smaller joints of the hands.
Carpal tunnel and arthritis treatments are also very different. Anti-inflammatories can help with both. Rest and support can also help the carpal tunnel, but it is usually not effective for arthritis. Carpal tunnel syndrome can usually be relieved with surgery. With the exception of partial and joint replacements, surgery is generally not considered the standard treatment for arthritis. Treatment for arthritis usually includes medication, exercise, and rehabilitation. Carpal tunnel may include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, surgery, exercise, and rehabilitation.