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Painful Hands - Is It Arthritis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?


Updated June 04, 2014

Painful Hands - Is It Arthritis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome affects an estimated 2 million people in the United States. You may know someone who has the condition or you may suspect you have it yourself when your hands begin to hurt. Not all hand pain is related to carpal tunnel syndrome though. Hand pain can be caused by many conditions including:

About half of all carpal tunnel cases are work-related and the condition accounts for the highest number of days missed at work compared to all other work-related injuries or illnesses. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), carpal tunnel syndrome develops when the median nerve in the wrist becomes inflamed. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers (not the little finger), as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move. Carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms include:

  • difficulty holding objects
  • difficulty performing repetitive movements without pain
  • numbness, burning pain, tingling in hand or wrist that increases at night

Pianists, hair stylists, manual laborers, concert violinists, computer operators, and even surgeons are listed among those most commonly at higher risk for developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Certain diseases and conditions, including many types of arthritis and rheumatic conditions, also increase the risk of developing carpal tunnel syndrome. It's important to get an accurate diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome so that you can receive appropriate treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome may prevent permanent damage to the median nerve.

Conservative treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome are usually tried before surgery is considered to relieve pressure on the median nerve. Conservative treatment may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), rest, splinting, cortisone injections, or physical therapy.

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