Carpal Tunnel vs Arthritis – Differences & Similarities

carpal tunnel vs arthritis

The pain in your wrists could be associated with more affections. At first, you probably imagine it is just your job – too much typing or manual handling. Maybe you have slept in a funny position, so you just hope the pain will go away after a few days. But if it does not, you know it is more serious. There are a few different conditions associated with the wrist pain and the carpal tunnel and arthritis are the most popular ones.

Now, before digging into deeper details, you should know that arthritis patients are more likely to develop carpal tunnel. In other words, it is perfectly normal to experience both conditions at the same time as well. Now, what are the differences between them? How can you tell which one you have? Comparing carpal tunnel vs arthritis will bring in a few significant differences, but also the numerous similarities between the two.

The actual definitions of carpal tunnel and arthritis

Both carpal tunnel and arthritis are likely to affect your wrists. The pain and discomfort may also expand if you leave the condition untreated for too long. Simply put, you could experience painful sensations in your fingers as well, not to mention the hands. Causes for these signs vary widely and based on them, you can easily determine which issue you suffer from. Obviously, this is only an informative idea, as you will still have to consult a specialist doctor for a professional diagnosis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

The rheumatoid arthritis is classified as an autoimmune affection. To keep it simple, autoimmune affections occur when your immune system attacks parts of the same body. In this case, the immune system will most commonly focus on the joints. The attack will lead to swelling, painful symptoms and inflammation. There are more symptoms associated with rheumatoid arthritis, but these are related to the carpal tunnel as well.


On the other hand, osteoarthritis may also be responsible for the discomfort in your wrists. Osteoarthritis is often classified as a type of arthritis, so the symptoms are quite similar. However, the affection is the direct cause of simple wear and tear. Such issues occur when the cartilage around joints loses its elasticity and wears away. While signs could be similar to the ones associated with arthritis, the cause is different.

Carpal tunnel

Finally, carpal tunnel is classified as a syndrome. It occurs when a particular nerve in your hand is too compressed in the carpal tunnel. The median nerve is one of the largest nerves in your hand. On the other hand, the tunnel is basically a passage in the palm. It also stores the tendons allowing you to bend the fingers. When this nerve is too compressed, painful sensations and discomfort will inevitably become part of your daily hassle.

This tunnel is about an inch in width. Its floor and side walls are based on bone tissue. These bones are known as carpal bones in the medical world. They all work together and feature a connection through a ligament. Consistent hand motions – repetitive actions – that put pressure on this part of your hand will cause the discomfort. For example, someone who types all day long or works on an assembly line is more likely to experience this problem.

Such motion must be excessive for wear and tear to occur. Tendons will be exposed to too much pressure, so they will swell. The median nerve will then be squeezed in. While typing repeatedly is sometimes associated with the problem, the truth is it is more likely to occur in heavy duty operations – such as factory workers, assembly line workers, manual handlers and so on. Typing may be a repetitive action, but it is not that harsh.

Other issues

There are more issues to consider when comparing carpal tunnel vs arthritis. Practically, there are many more health related issues that could cause swelling and discomfort in this area. Arthritis – a few different types of it – represent a common cause, but then, thyroid related affections and diabetes could also lead to wrist pains and discomfort. Pregnant women may experience the same problem due to hormonal changes.

carpal tunnel

The connection

When facing pain in your wrists, it is usually arthritis or the carpal tunnel syndrome. However, you are also likely to experience both problems. The carpal tunnel syndrome is less likely to cause arthritis – there are no connections whatsoever. On the other hand, those suffering from arthritis could actually end up with the carpal tunnel syndrome. There is, indeed, a connection in that direction. Simply put, some people end up suffering from both affections.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is the main type of arthritis that could cause the carpal tunnel syndrome. Now, this affection targets particular joints. If it affects your legs, it is less likely to cause the carpal tunnel syndrome. But on the other hand, if the affection targets your wrists or even your arms, it may lead to carpal tunnel. Most types of rheumatoid arthritis tend to aggravate and chances are they will affect the wrists at some point or another.

Suggested article: What Does Arthritis Feel Like?


Even osteoarthritis may lead to the carpal tunnel syndrome, yet the connection between these two affections is relatively mild. It could happen, but a little maintenance and treatment can prevent it without too much hassle. At the end of the day, the wrist is a relatively small joint compared to others in your body. Any type of pressure on it – even a mild injury – could put pressure on the median nerve and lead to the carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel vs arthritis

When comparing carpal tunnel vs arthritis, it is worth noting that both affections also have a few things in common. Apart from affecting joints, they are about 300% more likely to show up in women. The cause is unknown, but it is believed that it may have something to do with the fact that the carpal tunnel is thinner in women. Therefore, it is more likely to experience pressure from basic activities. Furthermore, both affections tend to occur in the dominant hand.

Another similarity is the fact that both affections are more likely to occur in elders. Sure, young adults could also suffer from more types of arthritis or the carpal tunnel syndrome. But then, the affections are more likely to occur as you get older. In fact, three out of four patients are aged between 40 and 70. The good news is that despite all these similarities, a professional medical consultation will give you the right answer – there is no room for confusion.


Educating yourself over the Internet could help you understand that you have a problem in the wrists as your pain persists and refuses to go away. However, setting a diagnostic yourself is highly contraindicated. You need to know precisely what type of affection you suffer from. At that point, you will be able to get the right treatment. Seeing a specialist doctor is a must when not sure what you suffer from. The doctor will analyze your medical history and take you through a medical examination.

Get ready for the doctor to tap the inside of the wrist and try to focus in describing the sensation. Painful sensations are easy to determine, but shocking sensations could be a bit confusing – this exam is known as the Tinel test. You may also be asked to bend the wrist down and hold it in that position for about a minute – the Phalen test. If the symptoms occur at that point, chances are you suffer from the carpal tunnel syndrome.

When it comes to arthritis, tests are normally more sophisticated, regardless of what type of arthritis the specialist doctor suspects. For example, lab tests are more complicated, while X rays may also be used in the process to reveal the problem. Most doctors will also test you for diabetes, as well as fractures – even if you cannot remember experiencing one. The EMG may also be employed to determine the electrical activity in the nerve – this test is more common for the carpal tunnel syndrome.


When it comes to treatments, there are plenty of choices out there. Some treatments are suitable for both arthritis and the carpal tunnel syndrome. Obviously, some others are aimed at one affection or the other. The good news is that most of them imply some lifestyle changes – drugs for pain relief, rest, immobilization or alternative therapies. Surgery is, indeed, an option, but it represents a last resort – only used in extremely severe situations.


Bottom line, comparing carpal tunnel vs arthritis could be a bit tricky. After all, there are a few aspects where the two affections overlap each other. They may both affect wrists only, so setting a diagnostic could be challenging – hence the necessity of a specialist doctor. A bit of education will help you understand what you are dealing with. But at the end of the day, only a doctor can provide a diagnosis and a treatment, regardless of what you suffer from. Treatments are usually mild, but it is essential to seek help as soon as you notice the first signs.

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Arthritis and Weather – How Does Weather Affect Arthritis?
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