Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Arthritis?

Carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis are often confused with each other. However, both conditions are different in causes and clinical manifestations. Keep reading to learn more.

Carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis are two diseases that people confuse. The first is compression of the median nerve in the wrist, and the second is a localized inflammation of the joints, followed by severe pain and swelling.

It’s a simple mistake, after all, there are certainly similarities between the two conditions, especially when it comes to treatment. In this article, we’ll explain the symptoms, causes, and possible treatments for both conditions, so keep reading.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

The symptoms of this condition are the result of compression of the median nerve that runs through the wrist. From an anatomical point of view, this nerve passes through a canal called the “carpal tunnel”, the walls of which are formed by bones and ligaments.

Under the influence of some conditions that we will talk about below, the free space in the tunnel may decrease and affect the median nerve. This nerve has a delicate function, triggering a series of nerve impulses that cause abnormal sensations such as tingling and weakness.

It is usually seen in people who make repetitive movements with their hands, so medicine considers it an occupational disease. Some published studies put the incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome at 4.2 cases per 100,000 workers.


As the name suggests, arthritis is an inflammatory process of the joints. There are dozens of types, each with their own risk factors and treatments.

Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the most common. It is an autoimmune chronic inflammatory disease. What this means is that the body identifies the joint tissue as “foreign” and gradually destroys it. The cells and proteins of the immune system are a vital part of this process.

This disease is more common in women and the average age of diagnosis is around 40 years. The EPISER study stands out from many other studies and shows the prevalence of the disease at 0.5%.

Carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis symptoms

We can clearly distinguish the clinical manifestations of these two diseases, especially based on the presence of joint pain and swelling.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome

The median nerve is sensitive, so the symptoms caused by its compression correspond to abnormal sensations. However, pain is not a common part of the condition.

People with these symptoms often complain of progressive tingling or numbness. The affected area extends from the wrist to the ring finger and then the thumb.

These symptoms, together with the characteristic weakness, can lead to great difficulties in performing daily activities, including those outside of the work environment. This includes driving, cooking, washing and writing.

Arthritis symptoms

These are largely dependent on the type of arthritis, but are classic signs of inflammation that usually include:

  • pain
  • Swelling
  • redness
  • increased local temperature

Some types of arthritis are associated with joint stiffness, particularly in the early morning hours. The similarity with carpal tunnel syndrome is difficulty performing daily activities. This is usually caused by intense pain.

The condition of patients with untreated rheumatoid arthritis often results in complex joint deformities that significantly limit their quality of life. Deviation of the fingers is the most common.

Causes of carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis

Arthritis is often the result of genetic and environmental factors. For example, people with a family history of rheumatoid arthritis are more prone to the disease. The same is true for those who have a habit of smoking or have had an infection in childhood.

Carpal tunnel syndrome has many associated risk factors, many of which are exacerbated in certain work environments. Being a woman, having chronic diseases such as diabetes and obesity, writing regularly, and some anatomical factors are the most relevant.


You may not know this, but arthritis can cause carpal tunnel syndrome. As we mentioned before, one of the complications of this disease is joint and bone deformities due to inflammatory reactions.

When this happens around the carpal tunnel, it increases the likelihood of narrowing and compressing the median nerve. As a result, symptoms corresponding to both diseases will appear.

What are the treatments?

In both cases, the goal of medical treatment is to reduce symptoms and associated inflammation. However, the underlying cause usually persists. In the case of carpal tunnel syndrome, there are surgical interventions that can definitively resolve the clinical picture. We will tell you below.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

At first, the doctor may recommend basic measures to reduce symptoms in mild cases. This includes applying cold compresses and resting.

However, it may be necessary to immobilize the affected joints and initiate pharmacological treatment when it is not effective. The second consists of administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroids.

Finally, there are surgical options for nerve decompression. This is usually done by a hand surgeon and the procedure may or may not be endoscopic.

Consult a doctor in the following situations

If any of the above symptoms persist, consult a doctor without delay. Early diagnosis and timely treatment are the pillars to ensure adequate resolution of the medical condition. This, of course, reduces the incidence of permanent complications.

Carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis are similar but not the same

As you can see, both conditions are clearly different. The drugs used are similar, but do not self-medicate as the side effects can be harmful.

If you have any of the above symptoms, consult your family doctor so they can refer you to a specialist.


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