If you’re experiencing pain, numbness or a tingling sensation in your wrist and/or forearm, the first thing that comes to mind is that you may have carpal tunnel syndrome. But do you? After all, carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis share many similar symptoms. Let’s compare the differences.
Arthritis of the Wrist
Your wrist is comprised of many small joints that, with the onset of arthritis, become inflamed. What happens is that arthritis destroys the cartilage, causing your bones to rub against each other. Symptoms of wrist arthritis include stiffness, weakness, swelling, limited range of motion and clicking, cracking or grinding sound when you move the wrist.
Arthritis of the wrist symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe. Whereas mild symptoms are triggered with particular movements of the wrist, such as turning a door handle or twisting the lid of a jar, moderate arthritis produces low levels of pain at all times, with or without movement. With severe arthritis, you may be in constant pain, even when you rest your wrist. The pain may be so intense that it not only restricts your wrist motion, but you may need constant pain management (physical therapies, medications, etc.) to manage it.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The carpal tunnel is a narrow space between the bones and ligaments in the center of your wrist. Through this space runs the median nerve, which controls the sensation you feel in your thumb, index and middle fingers. Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the tendons running through the carpal tunnel become inflamed, thus irritating the median nerve and causing the pain, numbness, and tingling in your hand and arm associated with the condition.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is considered a repetitive strain injury, meaning that it occurs gradually, over time, as we continue to perform repetitive tasks such as typing, sewing, machine work, or use power tools that cause vibrations in the hand and wrists.
While many of the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome mirror those of arthritis, there are some subtle differences. They include numbness and tingling that affects your thumb and first few fingers – but not the pinky. Unlike some forms of arthritis that occur in both left and right hands, carpal tunnel syndrome is often isolated to the dominant hand. With carpal tunnel syndrome, the tingling and numbness will extend up your forearm. In the early stages of carpal tunnel syndrome, relief can be achieved with a good shake out of the hands and wrists.
Treating Wrist Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Depending on the type of arthritis and its severity, arthritis in the hands and wrist can be treated by limiting the activities that cause pain. Wearing a custom-made splint or an arthritis glove can provide relief as can nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), cortisone injections, hot and cold therapy, and joint exercises designed to encourage range of motion. In recent years, many who suffer from arthritis have found relief in regenerative medical therapies, which use molecular biology and tissue engineering to regenerate your body’s own tissue at a cellular level.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is also treatable with splinting, medications, or injections. In its very early stages, carpal tunnel syndrome can be treated by an occupational health specialist or physical therapist who can help you determine which habits and postures of your daily routine could be affecting your hands and wrists and provide you exercises and strategies to relieve pain. If the condition is more advanced, doctors may recommend more invasive treatments, to include corrective surgery.
STAR Spine & Sport specializes in a variety of non-invasive treatments – to include pain injections, physical and occupational therapies, and regenerative medicine – for both arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. You deserve to be pain-free. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 303-238-4277.