Wrist Pain: Tendonitis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Overuse and repetitive stress injuries are some of the most prevalent workplace and sports injuries, and wrist pain is no different. At the onset of pain or tingling in your wrists, hands and/or fingers, you may assume that you have carpal tunnel syndrome. Instead, you may actually be experiencing wrist tendonitis, but what’s the difference?

Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when the main nerve connecting the forearm to the hand –called the median nerve–in the wrist is compressed or damaged. The exact cause is unknown, but it is often attributed to repetitive motions like typing or texting. It can also be a symptom of pregnancy, obesity or an injury that causes swelling and nerve entrapment. Carpal tunnel syndrome (or CTS) symptoms often include pain on the underside of the wrist and tingling in the thumb, index and middle fingers. Some may also experience itchiness in that wrist.

Wrist Tendonitis

Like CTS, wrist tendonitis is often due to repetitive movements. When tendons are overused and overworked, they can accumulate tiny rips and tears resulting in inflammation. This is similar to stress fractures in bones. Continued use of inflamed tendons may lead to larger, more painful tears. Wrist tendonitis can mimic many of the same symptoms as carpal tunnel syndrome, but in addition, tendonitis can also cause aching and loss of strength and agility.

What’s the Difference?

Although CTS is one of the most common workplace injuries, it is not as common as people think. It is estimated to affect roughly 8 million people in the United States, but if consider the total population it only equates to about 2.5%. Because there is some overlap in symptoms, it’s understandable who actually have wrist tendonitis may confuse it with CTS.

The key differentiator lies in the location of the pain. As previously mentioned, CTS is felt on the palm side of the wrist and in the thumb, index and middle fingers. When pain occurs on the other side of the wrist, it likely tendonitis or another nerve problem. A common sign of wrist tendonitis is numbness in the pinky finger. This symptom does not overlap with CTS because the median nerve does not reach the pinky.

Contact South Shore Orthopedic

You should always consult a physician if you are experiencing any kind of chronic pain or neurological symptoms. Contact South Shore Orthopedics at 781-337-5555 or schedule an appointment online today.