Is It Carpal Tunnel or is it Arthritis?

Article featured on Orthoaedic Associates

If you are having pain in one or both hands, you may be wondering if carpal tunnel syndrome or arthritis are causing you pain. While both conditions can cause pain, there are several key differences between the two. Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause weakness, tingling, or numbness in the hand. Arthritis can also cause pain and make it difficult to grasp things, but for completely different reasons. Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by nerve compression and arthritis is caused by inflammation and damage to the joint.

Carpal Tunnel Versus Arthritis

If you have ever had a hand or leg “go to sleep” because of pressure that temporarily cuts off the blood supply, you can get an idea of what carpal tunnel can feel like. The prickling, burning sensation can be similar to the numbness caused by compressing the median nerve, which runs in a narrow tunnel like structure formed by the bones and connective tissues from the elbow to the hand. The tendons and median nerve allow the fingers of your hand to flex and extend.

The median nerve carries impulses to and from the palm side of your hand to the index, middle, and ring fingers, as well as your thumb. If the tissues of the tunnel are irritated (often by stress caused by repetitive movements such as typing), they can swell and place pressure on the nerve.

Arthritis of the hand, however, is caused by a different mechanism, often showing up with a specific pattern in the way it attacks the joints. In the case of arthritis, the lining (synovium) of the joint itself becomes inflamed. This can occur because of osteoarthritis (also called wear and tear arthritis), or other inflammatory processes caused by a defect in the immune response, in which the body attacks otherwise healthy tissue. The symptoms of arthritis include stiffness and soreness of the joint, and frequently starts with the smaller joints of the hands.

Treatments for carpal tunnel and arthritis are also very different. Anti-inflammatory medications can help both. Rest and bracing can also help carpal tunnel, but it is not usually effective with arthritis. Carpal tunnel syndrome can often be relieved by surgery. Except for partial and joint replacement, surgery is not usually considered as a standard treatment for arthritis. Treatment for arthritis usually includes medications, exercise, and rehabilitation. Carpal tunnel may include rest, anti-inflammatory medications, surgery, exercise, and rehabilitation.


New Mexico Orthopaedics is a multi-disciplinary orthopedic clinic located in Albuquerque New Mexico. We have multiple physical therapy clinics located throughout the Albuquerque metro area.

New Mexico Orthopaedics offers a full spectrum of services related to orthopedic care and our expertise ranges from acute conditions such as sports injuries and fractures to prolonged, chronic care diagnoses, including total joint replacement and spinal disorders.

Because our team of highly-trained physicians specialize in various aspects of the musculoskeletal system, our practice has the capacity to treat any orthopedic condition, and offer related support services, such as physical therapy, WorkLink and much more.

If you need orthopedic care in Albuquerque New Mexico contact New Mexico Orthopaedics at 505-724-4300.