Is My Hand Pain Caused by Arthritis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Let's say you wake up to find your hand numb and tingly. Did you sleep on it wrong? Is it your arthritis acting up? Or could it be carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)?

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Carpal Tunnel SyndromeActivity modification, splinting, and injections are all treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome.
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Treatment for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Video

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.

Learn more: Hand Pain and Rheumatoid Arthritis

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What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

The narrow space that's formed between the bones and ligaments in the center of your wrist is called the carpal tunnel. The median nerve—which controls the sensation in your thumb, index finger, and middle finger—runs through this space.

When the tendons that also run through the carpal tunnel become inflamed, they can irritate the median nerve, causing pain, numbness, and tingling in your hand and arm. This is known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Unfortunately, both of the most common types of arthritis raise the risk for CTS—particularly rheumatoid arthritis, which causes inflammation of the carpal tunnel tendons. Osteoarthritis of the wrist may be a culprit too.

See: Hand Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms that are unique to carpal tunnel syndrome

Since arthritis already causes symptoms like pain and tingling of the hand, it can be confusing to distinguish arthritis from carpal tunnel syndrome. However, there are some distinctive symptoms of CTS.

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes numbness and tingling that:

  • Affects your thumb and first 2 or 3 fingers, but not your pinky finger
  • Wakes you up at night or is worse in the morning
  • Gets better if you shake your hand (in the early stages of CTS)
  • Is triggered by holding a phone or driving
  • Is triggered by repetitive motion
  • Extends up your forearm

Carpal tunnel syndrome is treatable with splinting, medications, injections, or (in severe cases) surgery. So don't hesitate to talk with your doctor if you suspect that your symptoms may be due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

There are also several ways to treat symptoms in the hands from arthritis.

Learn more: Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis in Hands

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Post written by Carrie DeVries