Rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are two of the most prevalent underlying causes of hand pain in adults worldwide. Because they both result in similar types of pain and discomfort, it is easy to mistake one for the other. It is important to know the distinct differences between the two in order to know if you have carpal tunnel or arthritis.
Regardless of their similarities, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are distinctly different conditions when it comes to their causes and treatment methods.
What is Arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the more common forms of arthritis. It is an autoimmune disorder that leads to chronic inflammation of the small joints in your hands and feet.
Contrary to the common misconception, arthritis is not triggered by wear and tear of muscles or tissues. Instead, it occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own tissues in the affected areas.
Knowing the symptoms of arthritis can be helpful in determining whether your chronic hand pain is caused by carpal tunnel or arthritis. Arthritic symptoms include:
- Tender, warm, and swollen joints
- Stiffness in the affected areas during early mornings; the stiffness, more often than not, can last several hours
- Loss of appetite and energy, fever
- Firm tissue bumps under the skin of your fingers and elbows
In its initial stages, arthritis mostly attacks the smaller joints of your hands and feet – especially those that connect your toes to the feet, and your fingers to the hands. These symptoms deteriorate further with time in the absence of adequate treatment.
Arthritis doesn’t have a permanent cure. However, there are medications and physiotherapy techniques that can help reduce joint inflammation to relieve pain and prevent further joint damage.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The narrow region in between the bones and ligaments at the center of your wrist is called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve, which is responsible for controlling the sensation of your index finger, middle finger, and thumb, passes through the carpal tunnel.The carpal tunnel region also hosts tendons which, when inflamed, can cause mild to severe irritation of the median nerve. This can result in numbness, pain, and a tingling sensation in your arm, hand, and fingers. This condition is called carpal tunnel syndrome.
Typical symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
- Pain and numbness of the hands that deteriorates further at night
- “Pins and needles” sensation in the fingers and parts of the hand
- Weakness of the affected hand(s)
- Difficulty gripping objects
- Difficulty making a fist
- Difficulty controlling small objects
- Swollen fingers
Note that some of these symptoms are prevalent in arthritis patients, too. Therefore, they don’t usually provide a conclusive answer to the question we have raised: What’s the underlying cause that triggers your chronic hand pain – carpal tunnel or arthritis?
To get to the bottom of that question, you have to first compare the similarities between the two conditions and then find out the unique characteristics that separate both.
Carpal Tunnel or Arthritis: How to Determine Which Condition Affects You
As we have already discussed, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are completely different conditions with their own underlying causes and treatment methods. However, they are not always mutually exclusive.
Arthritis is known for its ability to raise the risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. This is particularly true in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation of the carpal tunnel tendons, triggering carpal tunnel syndrome.
Nonetheless, there are many symptoms that are unique to carpal tunnel syndrome, including a persisting numbness and tingling sensation that:
- Mostly affects your first 2 or 3 fingers and the thumb, and part of the pinky finger
- Worsens at night and interrupts your sleep
- Temporarily goes away when you shake your hand – especially during the initial stages of carpal tunnel syndrome
- Worsens when you’re driving or holding a phone
- Extends all the way up to the forearm
These are the symptoms to look out for when trying to figure out if your hand pain is caused by carpal tunnel or arthritis. If you are experiencing at least one or more of the aforementioned symptoms, odds are high you are suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome. It is best to see your doctor for a correct diagnosis.
Most patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome complain their hand pain greatly reduces their ability to function optimally in regular day-to-day tasks.
Fortunately, there are ways to counter this problem relatively easily without requiring any surgery or expensive treatment methods. In addition to methods such as massage, hand exercises, and warm or cold compresses, CarpalAID® offers a drug-free way to relieve your hand pain.
CarpalAID® is a uniquely designed hand patch that adheres to the palm of your hand using 3M medical grade adhesive. The design of the patch is such that it pulls up the skin of your palm along with the soft tissues underneath it. This creates negative pressure on the median nerve, neutralizing the pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome.
Note that this is only a general guide to help you identify whether you have carpal tunnel or arthritis. It is not meant to be an alternative to professional medical advice. If your hand pain is severely affecting the quality of your life, we recommend that you consult a physician at the earliest possible.