Arthritis or Carpal Tunnel?

x-ray of handThough they are both common, painful afflictions, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis are quite different diseases. Arthritis results from a breakdown of cartilage, while the discomfort of carpal tunnel syndrome comes about because of a pinched nerve.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the median nerve that runs through the wrist is compressed. The syndrome gets its name because the nerve passes through the carpal tunnel. People who are at higher risk play sports that require repetitive movements like tennis or squash. It can also be the result of an injury to the wrist. Arthritis can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome if the arthritis causes the tendons in the wrist to be inflamed.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
• Tingling, numbness and stiffness in the affected hand.
• Inability to hold on tightly to objects.
• Inability to form a fist.
• Shooting pains up the wrist into the arm. These pains are especially bad at night.
• Stiffness and cramping in the affected hand, especially in the morning.

Besides athletes who play racquet sports, people who are most at risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome are people who have hypothyroidism or diabetes. Pregnant and menopausal women are also at higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Arthritis
In osteoarthritis, the cartilage between the joints starts to break down, and the bones don’t slide against each other as easily as they once did. This leads to symptoms like pain and stiffness. If the arthritis is very severe, the bone may start to deteriorate. This causes the body to compensate by producing bone spurs. Bone spurs can cause inflammation in the joints, which makes the arthritis even more painful.

Symptoms of Arthritis
Besides pain and stiffness in the joints, symptoms include:
• A grating sensation or cracking sound when the joint is moved. This is especially noticeable in the knee.
• Pain that’s worse at the end of the day.
• Referred pain. This means the person feels pain in a place other than the site of the arthritis.

Symptoms vary from one person to the next. Some people with mild arthritis may have a great deal of pain, while other people whose arthritis is advanced may have little pain.

For more information on carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis, contact Carolina Hand and Sports Medicine at 828-253-7521 or toll-free at 1-877-349-4263.