Wrist pain? Is it tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome?

By: Bel Marra Health | General Health | Friday, August 14, 2015 - 04:36 AM

difference between tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndromeAs we age we experience many more aches and pains. Some may be a natural part of aging, while others may be the result of injury. But sometimes it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause of the pain. When symptoms overlap it can make diagnoses more difficult. Take wrist pain for example. There are many conditions associated with wrist pain, from injury to tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. The key is to understand the causes of your wrist pain to better determine which condition you actually have.

The wrist is compiled of bones, tendons and ligaments. All of these components work together to create even the slightest movement in our fingertips. Because we use our hands and wrists so often, those areas can be prone to injury which leads to discomfort and pain. If severe enough, surgery can be required to fix the damage which has been caused.

What is wrist tendonitis?

wrist tendonitisWrist tendonitis is the result of overuse of the wrist. A common condition, overuse of the wrist causes inflammation of the tendons which creates pain. Many activities involving repetitive motion of the wrist can contribute to wrist tendonitis, including sports such as tennis, knitting, hammering or using a computer.

Symptoms of wrist tendonitis include pain and stiffness which get worse over time, swelling, contact pain, numbness, tingling and reduced grip strength.

Treatment of wrist tendonitis involves the help of a physiotherapist. Their goal is to build strength in the wrist and forearm in order to avoid future outbreaks of wrist tendonitis. If symptoms are ignored, and you continue to use the injured wrist, further complications can arise and healing time will become prolonged. Massages, stretches and exercises under a physiotherapists instructions are all effective means to treat wrist tendonitis.

What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

carpal tunnel syndromeCarpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendonitis are often confused, but although they share similar traits, there are also vast differences. The pain from wrist tendonitis is caused by overuse; carpal tunnel syndrome is when a nerve running through the wrist becomes compressed.

The primary cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve which runs from the forearm into the palm. The median nerve is responsible for controlling sensations along the palm and fingers. It also controls impulses which allow the fingers to move.

Compression of the median nerve can result from injury, tumors, hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis and thickening of surrounding tendons due to inflammation.

If carpal tunnel syndrome is severe, surgery may be required to release the compression added to the median nerve. This happens to be one of the most common surgeries conducted in America.

Differences between carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis

Below is a simple chart highlighting the differences between tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. The information is attributed to IASIS healthcare.

Symptoms Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Tendonitis
Wrist pain, wrist muscle pain. X X
Weakness and tingling of the fingers (pins and needles). X X
Tightness and pain in the forearm, wrist and hand. X X
Numbness in the palm of the hand and fingers. X X
Swelling sensation. X X
Burning sensation. X X
Itching sensation. X  
Pain starts gradually in one or both hands. X  
In severe cases, unable to distinquish between hot and cold by tough. X  
Pain felt on the front and back side of the hand and wrist   X
Tenderness directly over the affected tendon.   X


Although the majority of symptoms are the same, there are slight differences which distinguish both conditions.

Preventative measures

Both tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome can be painful and limit the ability to use your hand – especially if you need to have surgery. Here are some preventative measures you can practice in order to avoid tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome:

If performing repetitive motions take some time to rest and stretch your hands, forearms and wrists

  • Apply cool packs to wrist area after activities in order to reduce inflammation
  • Ensure your wrists are not overly bent when using a computer and use a mouse pad which supports the wrist
    Wear a splint when active
  • Avoid activities which may worsen the pain
  • Stretch hands and wrists every 30 minutes
  • Keep wrists straight whenever possible


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