If you type or text a lot and you feel pain, numbness, tingling or burning in your hand and fingers, you may be quick to think you have carpal tunnel syndrome. However, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and wrist tendinitis are caused by similar activities and share similar symptoms. Carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis – what’s the difference?
CARPAL TUNNEL SYNDROME
The exact cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is not known but injuries; repetitive movements, such as typing on a keyboard; pregnancy, and some diseases can cause the nerve entrapment that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome. Symptoms include:
- pain near your wrist on the palm side of your hand
- numbness or tingling in your thumb, first, and middle fingers
- pins and needles” in your fingers especially if you bend your wrist
- your fingers “fall asleep” especially at night when sleeping with the wrist bent
Carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm through the wrist, gets squashed and swollen. Because the nerve is under pressure, sensory impulses don’t get transmitted properly and you may feel itchiness, numbness, or burning in your fingers and hand.
Over time, as that nerve shorts out like a kinked electrical cord, the pain and numbness can become worse. A classic symptom of CTS is waking up with pain or numbness that feels better by “shaking out” your hand. CTS symptoms shouldn’t be ignored. If the nerve remains compressed, permanent damage can occur. If symptoms persist, it’s important that you talk to your health care provider.
Tendinitis can be caused by repetitive wrist movements and overuse. Everything from spring-cleaning to a day of painting walls to competitive sports can cause tendinitis. When overworked tendons become irritated they can develop small tears. Like carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis can cause wrist pain, tingling sensations, and muscle weakness. With tendinitis you may experience numbness or tingling in any finger, including your pinky. (This doesn’t happen with carpal tunnel syndrome because the median nerve doesn’t run to the pinkies.)
For carpal tunnel syndrome, wearing a brace that supports your wrist and sometimes your fingers, helps decrease the swelling and reduces the pressure on the median nerve. Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can help reduce your pain and swelling. Making changes to how you do certain activities as well as taking frequent breaks can also be helpful in relieving your symptoms.
For tendinitis, rest along with anti-inflammatory medications can help with your pain and swelling. Other medications may be prescribed, along with physical and occupational therapy to improve motion and comfort. Splints and braces that support your wrist but do not fully limit your motion may help relieve the symptoms of mild tendinitis. For more severe tendinitis, when total rest is required, braces with more support are usually recommended.
If you have changed how you perform your activities, used a brace for at least a month, taken anti-inflammatory medicines and your symptoms continue or get worse, it is recommended that you talk to your health care provider. Feeling better may be as easy as a few therapy sessions, different medications or if necessary – surgery to resolve the problem before permanent damage occurs.Like what you’ve read? Click here to subscribe to the blog!
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