Is it Arthritis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Different Issues Have Different Solutions

Is it carpal tunnel or arthritis? You are experiencing some discomfort in your wrists and hands, but you are not at all sure what is causing it. You probably have some educated guesses, but that is likely not enough for you to find consistent relief from the pain. 

In order to put you on a path toward relief, your physician must determine the cause of the pain. For example, it might be arthritis. Or it could be carpal tunnel syndrome. Or it might be something else entirely.

For our purposes here, let’s take a look at the difference (and similarities) between arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Getting Down to the Source: Joints vs. Nerves

Arthritis is a joint disorder characterized by inflammation. When your joints are inflamed, it can make movement painful because your joints are the points in your body where two bones meet. Your knuckles, for example, are joints, and inflammation in those joints can make it difficult and painful to bend your fingers.

Meanwhile, carpal tunnel syndrome is a nerve issue that arises when the median nerve is irritated or entrapped. The median nerve extends from the forearm to the hand, passing through the wrist—the carpal tunnel—along the way. Generally speaking, the thumb, index finger, and middle finger are the parts of the hand that are impacted by carpal tunnel, whereas arthritis can affect any joint in your hands (indeed, any joint in your body—including your elbows, knees, and ankles).

Acknowledging the Overlap

In some cases, the symptoms of arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome can overlap, making the diagnostic process a bit more complicated. And in some cases, the inflammation caused by arthritis can actually contribute to the development of carpal tunnel syndrome.

There is also some overlap in the most conservative treatment options. For both arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, which include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, and others) and steroid injections may be the first options for addressing the symptoms. 

A Surgical Solution to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Is Sometimes Appropriate

If a person’s median nerve is entrapped and conservative approaches to treatment do not seem to provide any relief, the next option may be surgery. While there are a few different surgical approaches for addressing carpal tunnel syndrome, an ultrasound-guided carpal tunnel release procedure is often an excellent option. 

Ultrasound-guided carpal tunnel release can correct the issue that is causing the pain, tingling, and numbness that are characteristic of the syndrome. And the recovery time from the procedure is far shorter than that of other surgical options. Rather than enduring weeks of recovery, a person who has the ultrasound-guided procedure can anticipate that their recovery will last mere days. An outpatient, minimally invasive surgery, ultrasound-guided carpal tunnel release offers excellent results rapidly and with minimal inconvenience. 

Remember: Proper Diagnosis Is the Key

Let’s return to where we started: If you are experiencing pain in your hands and wrists, the first step toward relief is a conclusive diagnosis. From there a physician can suggest the best next steps, generally starting with conservative options. If the issue is carpal tunnel syndrome and those conservative options don’t do the trick, it may be time to consider a surgical solution. 

You Are in Good Hands With Dr. Williams

It goes without saying that alleviating pain in the hands and wrists can greatly improve your overall quality of life by enabling you to continue to enjoy a full range of activities without discomfort. When it comes to having surgery to address carpal tunnel syndrome, you want to put your wrists and hands in the hands of a skilled surgeon like Dr. Eric H. Williams.

If you are experiencing pain or discomfort in your hands and wrists—even (or especially) if you are not sure what the specific cause might be—it is time to get a diagnosis and to get on the road to relief. Contact us today to learn more.