Until your hands start to hurt, you don’t even realize how often you use your hands every day. Even everyday activities like getting dressed, using your phone, typing on a computer, or washing the dishes becomes difficult.
Both carpal tunnel syndrome and hand arthritis cause pain and dysfunction in your hands. Repetitive movements, like typing, writing, or painting, aggravate the conditions.
Our orthopedic team at Maryland Orthopedic Specialists sees patients with both conditions. They explain that the following signs and symptoms help you distinguish the difference between the two.
Arthritis of the hand
Several types of arthritis can cause pain and stiffness in your hands. Symptoms of hand arthritis include:
- Swelling your fingers, wrists, and knuckles
- Bony growths near the affected joints
- Redness or warmth in the skin around painful joints
Your pain, stiffness, and limitations in range of motion increase after lots of activity or are worse first thing in the morning. If your arthritis of the hand is due to psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis, you may also feel fatigued and generally unwell.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a result of compression on the median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel at the wrist. Symptoms usually affect the thumb, middle fingers, and index finger.
Some patients notice symptoms in the ring finger, but not in the pinky finger.
Classic signs of carpal tunnel syndrome include:
Carpal tunnel pain may be so fierce that it wakes you up at night and is at its worst in the morning. Sometimes the pain extends up your forearm.
You may get relief when you shake out your hands or change position. Pain worsens when you flex your wrist at a 90-degree angle for a minute or longer; pressing on your wrist can also cause pain.
Evaluating your pain
Take a moment to assess the pain you’re experiencing while typing.
Do you feel weak, tingly, or numb? It might resemble the sensation when your leg “goes to sleep.” This is a sign of compression of the median nerve that supplies sensation to the palm side of your hand, the middle, index, and ring fingers, and your thumb.
The repetitive movement of typing irritates the tissues in the carpal tunnel, causes swelling, and places pressure on the nerve.
Arthritis causes swelling and stiffness. It usually starts in the smaller joints of the hands, too. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, it usually affects both hands. But osteoarthritis might only affect one hand.
Treating pain while typing
Anti-inflammatory medications offer relief from mild cases of both carpal tunnel and arthritis. If you have carpal tunnel, you might get relief by wearing a brace or splint to stabilize the wrist. These devices don’t help arthritis pain.
Surgery is a standard treatment for advanced carpal tunnel syndrome that doesn’t respond well to conservative treatments.
Treatment for arthritis focuses on managing pain and further progression of the illness. Medications, exercise, and rehabilitation are the primary interventions. In some cases, partial and full joint replacement may be considered.
For a definitive diagnosis of your hand pain, set up an appointment with our hand expert, Dr. Peter G. Fitzgibbons. Call our Bethesda or Germantown, Maryland, office at 301-515-0900 or set up an appointment here to get a comprehensive evaluation.