Wrist arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are two common causes of hand and wrist pain. The symptoms of these two conditions may overlap at times, making it difficult to distinguish one from the other. It’s critical to understand the distinctions between the two to treat each effectively.
Let’s look at how wrist arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are both similar and different.
Differences in Underlying Cause
Both wrist arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome cause wrist pain but for different reasons. Wrist arthritis results from damaged cartilage in the wrist joint, while carpal tunnel syndrome is due to the compression of the median nerve, which passes through the wrist.
How Does Wrist Arthritis Develop?
Wrist arthritis is due to the wearing down of cartilage in the wrist joint. Eight carpal bones can be found in the wrist joint — connecting the bones of the forearm and hand.
Articular cartilage can exist between any two bones attached to form a joint. When you use your wrist, the cartilage promotes a gliding joint, in which the bones easily move and glide with each other. The slippery texture of the cartilage protects the bones from rubbing against each other. The cartilage also acts as a cushion between the connected bones.
Your cartilage degrades when you have wrist arthritis, leading to inflammation in the wrist joint. If your condition worsens, the cartilage can deteriorate further.
The three most common types of arthritis that affect the wrist are as follows:
- Rheumatoid arthritis — an autoimmune disease in which the body fights off its cartilage and ligaments
- Osteoarthritis — the wear and tear of cartilage, commonly due to aging
- Posttraumatic arthritis — this develops due to injury (for example, a broken bone or sprain), even if bones and ligaments heal properly
How Does Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Occur?
The carpal tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist composed of the finger bones, tendons, and ligaments. When the median nerve becomes constricted, you can develop carpal tunnel syndrome.
The median nerve is vital, because it allows you to feel sensations with your fingers, except for the little finger. It is also the nerve that allows the base of the thumb to move.
Narrowing of the carpal tunnel or inflammation of the flexor tendons can cause pressure on the median nerve. Like the median nerve, the flexor tendons pass through the carpal tunnel and enable flexion or bending of the fingers.
It’s best to consult an orthopedic doctor to determine the cause of your wrist and hand pain.
Similarities and Differences in Symptoms
Wrist arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome have an overlap in symptoms. A patient experiencing either may feel weakness in their hand and wrist, as well as pain and stiffness.
What Symptoms Are Associated with Wrist Arthritis?
With wrist arthritis, the affected wrist joint can swell noticeably, becoming red and warm. The wrist may feel painful, and its range of motion may become limited. Using your wrist to make rotating motions, such as when opening bottles or turning doorknobs, can increase the pain.
What Symptoms Are Associated with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The difference in carpal tunnel syndrome is that it is accompanied by numbness or a tingling sensation. The wrist is affected along with the fingers. This can also cause burning pain, which may cause you to wake up at night.
Due to a tingling sensation in their hands, people with carpal tunnel syndrome are prone to dropping things or being unable to control their hands fluidly, especially when making delicate motions.
If conservative treatment methods don’t alleviate your symptoms, consult with a hand surgeon to discuss available surgical options.
Expert Hand Surgeon in North Dakota
Carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist arthritis both cause wrist pain and share hand and wrist weakness-inducing symptoms. Their differences lie in how they cause pain, among other distinguishing symptoms.
If you are experiencing hand or wrist pain, The Bone & Joint Center can address your needs. Our team of board-certified and fellowship-trained orthopedic surgeons specializes in various bone and joint conditions, including wrist arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Our qualified team includes Dr. Brock Norrie with expertise in hand, elbow, and shoulder surgery. Dr. Duncan Ackerman and Dr. Troy Pierce are our specialists for upper extremity and microvascular surgery. Dr. Derrick Cote is our main orthopedic physician if you have general orthopedic concerns.
We have clinics in Bismarck, Dickinson, Beulah, Williston, Garrison, Hettinger, Turtle Lake, Hazen, Linton, Minot, and Wishek, ND.
If you have any inquiries about our services, call us at (800) 424-2663. To schedule an appointment, call us at (701) 946-7400 or (866) 900-8650. You can also fill out our convenient online form to request an appointment.