Difference between Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel

Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) are two common conditions that affect the hands and wrists. While they may share some similar symptoms, they are very different conditions with different causes, treatments, and long-term effects. Understanding the differences between arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome is important to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints of the body. The joints are the areas of the body where two or more bones come together. A joint is complex and consists of muscles, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and bone.

  • Symptoms of Arthritis − The symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and a feeling that the joints are stiff. The condition worsens with age. Joints may swell and may become difficult to move. There also may be a redness of the joint along with swelling present over the affected joint

  • Diagnosis for Arthritis − Diagnosis can be made based on physical exam, X-rays, and blood tests. There are several different types of arthritis. X-rays can help determine the type of arthritis and blood tests can show the presence of rheumatoid factors. These are antibodies that are produced in rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Causes of Arthritis − There are many different causes of arthritis. For instance, acute infectious arthritis is caused by an infectious agent such as bacteria. Rheumatoid arthritis is when the lining of the joints break down while osteoarthritis is when the cartilage of the joints break down. Osteoarthritis is most often from aging or infection while rheumatoid arthritis is often an autoimmune condition.

  • Risk factors for Arthritis: − Infectious arthritis is more likely in people who are over 50 years of age who have had surgery on their joints. Genetics may play a role in risk and as you age you may be more likely to have joint problems. Obesity is a risk factor because it places excess pressure on the joints. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus also increase your risk of arthritis.

  • Treatment for Arthritis − Patients can take anti-inflammatory medicines and steroids. Treatment may vary depending on what type of arthritis you have. People who have osteoarthritis sometimes benefit from having an injection of hyaluronic acid. Prescribing medicine to reduce the immune response can help people who have autoimmune problems that are causing rheumatoid arthritis. Surgery may be needed to repair badly damaged joints.

What is Carpal Tunnel?

Carpal tunnel is a condition in which pressure is placed on the median nerve traveling into the hand, causing pain and a tingling or numb sensation in the hand. The carpal tunnel is a tunnel region formed by the bones, tendons, and ligaments of the hand through which the median nerve passes.

  • Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel − Symptoms include pain, a sense of numbness and tingling in the hand. A person may start to drop items more often than usual as the hand feels weaker than normal.

  • Diagnosis for Carpal Tunnel − A doctor performs a physical exam. In addition, an electromyogram (EMG) can be used to diagnose the condition. This test measures the muscular electrical activity in the hand. A nerve conduction study can be done in which the activity of the nerves can be assessed. In addition to these tests, ultrasound and MRI can provide more information on the median nerve and soft tissues in order to guide treatment efforts.

  • Causes of Carpal Tunnel − Genetics and heredity may play a role, and any injury to the wrist can cause the condition. Repetitive hand motion may also play a role but there is no definitive evidence that it does cause the condition.

  • Risk factors involved in Carpal Tunnel − Having certain conditions can increase your risk of developing carpal tunnel. For instance, conditions that increase your risk include if you have diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or if you are pregnant or obese. If you have an occupation in which you have a repetitive use of the hand, then this may possibly increase your chances of having carpal tunnel.

  • Treatment for Carpal Tunnel − A patient can wear a splint or brace at night while they are sleeping. The goal is to keep the wrist straight to stop the pressure on the nerve. Corticosteroids can be injected directly into the carpal tunnel region to relieve pain and patients can take anti-inflammatory medications. In extreme cases, surgery may be needed to reduce the pressure on the nerve.

Differences Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel

One of the key differences between arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome is the location of the symptoms. Arthritis affects the joints, while CTS affects the wrist and hand. In addition, arthritis is a chronic condition that typically develops slowly over time and worsens with age. CTS, on the other hand, can develop suddenly and may be related to specific activities or conditions.

Another key difference between the two conditions is the treatment options available. Arthritis treatment may include pain relief medications, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and surgery in severe cases. CTS treatment may include wrist splinting, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroid injections, and surgery in severe cases. In both cases, early intervention and treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent long-term damage.

The long-term effects of arthritis and CTS also differ. Arthritis can cause permanent damage to the joints, leading to deformities and limited mobility. CTS, if left untreated, can cause permanent nerve damage, leading to weakness and loss of sensation in the affected hand.

The following table highlights the major differences between Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel −



Carpal Tunnel


Arthritis is a condition in which the joints are inflamed.

Carpal tunnel is a condition in which pressure is placed on the median nerve as it enters the hand.


Arthritis symptoms include painful, red, swollen and stiff joints.

Carpal tunnel symptoms include pain, numbness and tingling in the hand.


Arthritis is diagnosed with X-rays and blood tests.

Carpal tunnel is diagnosed with nerve conduction studies, an electromyogram, ultrasound and MRI.


Arthritis can be caused by genetics, a joint injury, or autoimmune disease.

Carpal tunnel may be caused by genetics or by a wrist injury. It may also possibly be caused by repetitive motion of the hand.


In conclusion, arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are two distinct conditions that affect the hands and wrists. Arthritis is a general term for joint inflammation, while CTS is caused by compression of the median nerve in the wrist. While they may share some symptoms, the location of the symptoms, causes, treatments, and long-term effects differ. Proper diagnosis and treatment are essential to manage symptoms and prevent long-term damage in both conditions.

If you experience any hand or wrist pain or discomfort, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Updated on: 21-Aug-2023


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