Wrist Arthritis vs. Carpal Tunnel

Whether you’re a factory line worker or a chronic social media scroller, your wrist is essential to your daily life and ability to function normally. When your wrist and the bones and muscles within it become damaged and irritated, you experience the pain and immobility associated with conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist arthritis. 

Identifying exactly which condition you have is vital to finding relief quickly. Dr. Michael Blackwell at the Center for Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine specializes in determining the source of your wrist pain and creating a treatment plan that works best for you. 

Wrist overview

To call your wrist an extremely complicated part of your body is no exaggeration. Eight small carpal bones in your wrist join the two long bones in your forearm and the bones in your hand. An intricate combination of ligaments, bones, muscles, and other tissues come together perfectly to give you the ability to bend, rotate, and straighten your hand and arm. 

Because your wrist has so many different structures and tissues, it’s a breeding ground for ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis. Repetitive stress and the general wear on your bones causes you to feel significant pain and lack of mobility. 

While the pain in both conditions can be similar, it stems from different sources. Here are a few of the key differences between arthritis in your wrist and carpal tunnel syndrome.

Wrist arthritis

The joint surface of the bones that make up your wrist are covered in a protective substance called cartilage. This tissue is slippery and helps your bones slide smoothly next to each other as you move your wrist. 

Arthritis occurs when your cartilage becomes damaged or wears away completely and your bones rub roughly against each other. The different types of arthritis commonly found in the wrist include osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriatic arthritis. 


This kind of arthritis is common and generally occurs in people who have a family history of arthritis. It develops when your cartilage wears down over time. The more damaged the cartilage becomes, the less it’s able to regenerate. Your bones begin to scrape against each other, and you feel remarkable pain. 

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means your body attacks and destroys its own tissues. Instead of defending and restoring cartilage and bone density, your body damages it. With no cartilage and weakened bones, your wrist becomes so painful that it can be hard to function. 

Psoriatic arthritis

If you have psoriasis, a skin condition that causes red patches on your skin, it’s likely that you will develop joint pain and arthritis as a side effect. The condition that causes the rashes on your skin also causes your joints to become inflamed and damaged. This type of arthritis is similar to rheumatoid arthritis because it’s caused by a disease in which your body attacks your own tissues and joints. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome gets its name from a structure in your wrist called the carpal tunnel. This narrow passageway is on the palm side of your wrist, and it’s made up of various bones, and most importantly, the median nerve. The median nerve is a long nerve that runs the length of your arm and passes through the carpal tunnel.  

You develop carpal tunnel syndrome when your median nerve becomes compressed within the carpal tunnel. You not only feel pain in your wrist but other symptoms like:

Any repetitive motions like the ones you do at work or scrolling on your smartphone are the main reason you develop carpal tunnel syndrome. Other risk factors include pregnancy and diseases like hypothyroidism, diabetes, and obesity. 

Treating your wrist pain 

No matter what’s causing your wrist pain, Dr. Blackwell and his experienced staff are equipped with the tools needed to treat it. Everyone’s wrist pain is different, so Dr. Blackwell starts your treatment with a series of exams and a discussion about your symptoms and medical history. 

From there, he creates a plan to treat your pain, beginning as conservatively as possible. Early approaches include hot and cold compresses, medication, and aids like wrist or finger splints to stabilize your wrist and provide relief from pain. He also offers steroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain. 

Should conservative methods prove unsuccessful or the severity of your situation demand it, Dr. Blackwell suggests surgical interventions like carpal tunnel release, ligament repair, and joint replacement. He uses the most advanced and minimally invasive surgical methods to repair the damage in your wrist. 

Why spend another day with a throbbing wrist? Let our expert staff relieve your pain with the best treatments available. Call our offices in Tomball or Shenandoah, Texas, today to get started. You can also send a message to Dr. Blackwell and the team here on our website.

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