Arthritis vs Carpal Tunnel
Arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are two conditions that people may suffer from pain in the hand or wrist. The root cause of this pain can be difficult to diagnose if you don't know what you're looking for. Still, we will go over the basics of arthritis and carpal tunnel so you can understand their differences and similarities.
What is Arthritis?
Arthritis is an inflammatory condition in which there is pain, stiffness, and swelling of the joints. Arthritis can affect many different parts of the body, including hands, legs, feet & shoulders.
There are multiple forms of arthritis one can suffer pain from, such as gout arthritis, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a disorder in your wrists that causes pain, numbness, and tingling in your hand. It is a nerve disorder that happens when a nerve in your wrist gets pressed or squeezed at the carpal tunnel located at the base of your hand.
Why are they confused for each other?
Arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are often confused because they can both cause pain and stiffness in the hand. Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of your joints, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.
What are their differences?
Both Arthritis and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome cause pain and stiffness, but carpal tunnel can also cause numbness and tingling in the wrist and hand.
Another giveaway for carpal tunnel syndrome is arthritis usually affects both sides of the wrists while carpal tunnel is only on one side. Arthritis comes about gradually, whereas carpal tunnel typically occurs suddenly.
Symptoms Of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The main symptom of carpal tunnel syndrome is pain, weakness, and tingling in the hand and wrist.
The most common symptom of this disorder is pain, and it can range from mild to severe. The pain will worsen with any movement that puts pressure on the median nerve, such as driving long distances, sleeping, and repetitive motions.
Symptoms Of Arthritis
Symptoms of arthritis are pain, redness, and warmth. Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints.
What Causes Carpal Tunnel
Carpal tunnel syndrome is brought on by pressure on the median nerve. Many things can cause a decrease of space in the carpal tunnel and bring pressure to the median nerve.
It's typically more than one thing that causes the pressure on the nerve. A fracture or inflammation brought on by rheumatoid arthritis can trigger it.
There are risk factors that do influence your chances of developing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Some risk factors are:
Occupation: The two main occupations associated with carpal tunnel syndrome are construction and working on computers. Operating tools with significant vibration can damage the median nerve and inflame its passage into the hand. Computer work is also associated with developing carpal tunnel syndrome, but studies are less clear on the correlation.
Body Weight: People who are considered overweight or obese are at higher risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
Gender: Females are more likely to develop carpal tunnel due to the smaller passage in their wrist and hand than men.
Injury: Fracture, sprain, and dislocation damage the median nerve passage and impair the median nerve causing carpal tunnel syndrome.
Disease: Any disease that can bring inflammation or nerve damage to the wrist puts you at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome. Some of these conditions are diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, menopause, and thyroid disease.
What Causes Arthritis
Arthritis can be caused by a number of things such as overuse injuries, wear over the years, and inflammation in the joints due to autoimmune diseases.
Carpal Tunnel Treatments
Treatment ranges from therapy, habit changes, wrist braces, medication, and surgery for carpal tunnel syndrome. Depending on the severity of your carpal tunnel, you'll start at one of the treatments and work up till it is resolved.
Therapy for carpal tunnel syndrome consists of stretching, strengthening, and manual therapy. Depending on the severity of your carpal tunnel will determine how long you'll do this.
If doctors believe your carpal tunnel results from physical activity, they will recommend avoiding those activities. Anything that has a vibration or repetitive tasks should be suspended.
For carpal tunnel syndrome treatment, wrist braces are important because they support the joints in the hands to take pressure off them if there is swelling or inflammation which can help with pain relief. You may wear be in a brace for a few weeks or even longer, depending on the severity of your condition.
Anti Inflammatory Medications
In some cases, carpal tunnel syndrome is brought on by inflammation of the wrists. Medication can reduce wrist pain and swelling and hopefully ease pressure on the median nerve.
Surgery will be required to address the carpal tunnel syndrome if therapy, lifestyle change, braces, and medications fail to relieve the numbness, tingling, and pain.
Surgery consists of cutting the transverse carpal ligament and releasing pressure on the median nerve. The recovery from this surgery can take up to six weeks.
Since there is no cure for arthritis, all treatments are to relieve the pain and symptoms. Since there are multiple types of arthritis and severity levels, treatment can vary widely.
Anti Inflammatory Medications And At-Home Methods
For mild cases of arthritis, anti inflammatory medications are a good starting point. They are available over the counter or by prescription.
Topical Creams and Lotions
There are topical creams, gels, and lotions that can help reduce arthritis pain in both hands. Arthritis gloves work to relieve pressure on the fingers which helps with stiffness, cramping, and fatigue. Heat packs provide relief from aches all over.
Another way to help relieve wrist and hand pain from arthritis is to use a pain irritant. A pain irritant is a cream or gel that reduces pain and inflammation. It includes ingredients like menthol for an icy sensation, camphor to warm up the area, and capsaicin, making your body release endorphins that reduce pain signals.
These work by trying to interrupt the pain signals the nerves are receiving.
Stiff joints from arthritis can cause a loss of mobility, compounding the pain and negative effect of arthritis. In situations like this, physical therapy will help to reduce stiffness and increase mobility.
Physical therapy includes some different techniques to help regain your range of motion, win back strength in the hand and wrist area while also helping you learn how to perform daily activities with less pain. Arthritis can be painful, but it does not have to limit one's quality of life.
For arthritis conditions that are not brought on by wear and tear, some medications can directly help that condition. This is primarily for gout and rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is when your immune system attacks the joints and causes inflammation. Medication for rheumatoid arthritis works by slowing down the immune system, so it does not attack your joints. People with rheumatoid arthritis must take medication every day to help their condition.
Gout is a type of arthritis that flares up and can go away. Gout is caused by high levels of uric acid that form crystals in the joints and cause pain. Medication for gout helps to reduce inflammation, lower uric acid levels, and decrease pain.
For osteoarthritis, medications are focused on killing the pain. Medicines for osteoarthritis include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, and pain relievers. People should talk with their doctors before using any medication for arthritis because each medicine has possible side effects that may not be right for everyone.
Surgery Arthritis is a condition that can be helped by surgery, but this option should always come after all other non-surgical remedies have been tried and failed.
Wrist Joint Replacement
If the wear and tear on the wrist joint are so extreme and the pain is unbearable, a wrist joint replacement may be your only option for pain relief.
This is a serious surgery where they replace the bones and cartilage of your wrist with artificial parts. Arthritis patients have this surgery to relieve pain, but it can be risky, so it should always come after exhausted non-surgical options.
Proximal row carpectomy
A proximal row corpectomy is a surgery that relieves the pressure on your median nerve by cutting out small sections of bone at each end of the carpal bones.
This surgery is recommended for people who have had symptoms for less than one year, but it has a low success rate and doesn't work well with severe arthritis-related pain cases.
As a last resort, you can have wrist fusion surgery—this surgery to stop the wrist from moving.
This surgery is used in severe cases of arthritis pain and can be a great option if arthritis is causing your carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, but it has been shown that 40% of patients have problems with this type of surgery.
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Carpal tunnel vs arthritis are not always isolated conditions. There are situations where a form of arthritis can bring on carpal tunnel syndrome.
The relationship between carpal tunnel and arthritis is only one way, though. Carpal tunnel syndrome will not bring on any arthritis.
As a reminder, this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It is not intended to be medical advice, diagnosis, or treat any conditions.