Like everybody else, you rely on the use of your hands for almost everything you do on a daily basis. Unfortunately, when you start to experience constant pain and discomfort in your hands and wrists, these simple tasks often become uncomfortable and more difficult. Two big culprits of this type of pain are Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and both conditions are infamous for the pain and discomfort they bring to the hands and wrists. Since both of these conditions lead to a similar type of pain, they can be easily confused. You should know that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and arthritis are different conditions, and ultimately may have different treatments and outcomes.
What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The carpal tunnel is an area on the palm side of your wrist, which is made up of bones and ligaments. This area houses a main nerve to your hand, known as the median nerve, as well as the nine tendons that bend your fingers. The median nerve provides sensation to the palm side of your thumb and fingers, except your little finger. It also provides nerve signals to move the muscles around the base of your thumb.
This condition causes a tingling and numbness in your fingers and hand, often when you’re holding a steering wheel, phone or newspaper. This sensation can even wake you up from sleeping and may extend from your wrist up your arm. Carpal tunnel syndrome stems from anything that crowds, irritates or compresses the median nerve, such as a wrist fracture, swelling or inflammation.
In mild cases of this disorder, you can ease discomfort by taking frequent breaks to rest your hands. Try to avoid activities that worsen your symptoms, and even apply cold packs to reduce any swelling and inflammation. If these don’t relieve your symptoms within a few weeks, your doctor may recommend additional options such as wrist splinting, medications or surgery depending on how advanced the disorder is.
What is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?
RA is an autoimmune disorder characterized by chronic inflammation, typically affecting the small joints in your hands as well as your feet. This condition isn’t caused by wear and tear, but rather it occurs when your immune system attacks your own body’s tissues. Specifically, it targets the lining of your joints, leading to painful swelling that can cause severe joint problems.
Although there isn’t a cure for rheumatoid arthritis, there are medications that reduce joint inflammation to relieve pain and slow joint damage. If you have RA, your rheumatologist may recommend occupational or physical therapy so you can learn to protect your joints and keep them flexible. If RA severely damages joints, surgery may be necessary.
If you would like to find out more information about Rheumatoid Arthritis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, call Colorado Center of Orthopaedic Excellence at (719) 623-1050 to request an appointment.