Carpal Tunnel vs. Tendonitis
Do you find that you suffer from wrist pain, numbness, or tingling due to overuse or repetitive movements? You might assume that you’re dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome and think there’s nothing you can really do about it. In reality, however, you might actually be dealing with tendonitis, so it’s important to know what the difference is and how to treat the issue.
What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
A narrow passageway surrounded by bones and ligaments, the carpal tunnel sits on the palm side of your hand. When pressure is applied to the median nerve, you might experience carpal tunnel syndrome. This nerve runs from your forearm through the carpal tunnel and gives your hand sensation to your thumb and all fingers except the pinky. It also alerts your nerves to move muscles around the base of your thumb.
Over time, you might notice that your fingers or hand become numb or tingle, almost like you’re feeling an electric shock. The sensation also might travel up your arm, making it difficult to complete tasks such as driving, writing, or using a computer. This usually affects the thumb and all fingers except the pinky finger. You might also experience weakness in your hand, causing you to drop objects, which is due to the deterioration of your thumb’s ability to pinch items.
What Are Some Treatments for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
The treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome depends on the severity of the symptoms, but you typically have both surgical and non-surgical options available. Non-surgical treatments might include the following:
- Braces or splints. At night, wearing a splint or brace can prevent you from bending your wrist while you’re sleeping. Maintaining a straight position on your wrist reduces pressure on the nerve found in the carpal tunnel.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Taking medications including ibuprofen can relieve inflammation and pain.
Surgical options might include the following:
- Open method. In this procedure, a 3-inch incision is made on the wrist so the surgeon can manipulate the carpal tunnel. Once the procedure is complete, the wound is sutured and a splint is worn for up to three weeks. The patient typically needs physical therapy afterward.
- Endoscopy. With a stitchless endoscopic carpal tunnel release (SECTR), the surgeon makes a smaller incision and uses a tiny camera to inspect the carpal tunnel. A tiny probe divides or cuts the transverse ligament. The patient doesn’t need sutures, and the wound is bandaged.
How Do You Prevent Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
You can minimize the stress your hands might encounter by practicing the following:
- Give yourself a break. Take frequent breaks, stretching your hands and bending your wrists often. Switch up your tasks if possible. Even a few minutes an hour can make a difference.
- Relax. If your job requires you to constantly use a keyboard, hit the keys softly. Whenever you use a pen and experience prolonged handwriting, use an oversized pen or add a soft-grip adapter.
- Swap out your computer mouse. Change out your mouse for one that’s more comfortable and doesn’t add extra strain on your wrist.
- Work on your posture. When you have incorrect posture, you’ll find that your shoulders roll forward, shortening those muscles. In turn, your nerves become compressed in your neck, causing pain in your fingers, wrists, and neck.
What Is Tendonitis?
The tendon is a thick fibrous cord that attaches the muscle to the bone, and its primary function is to hold that muscle to the joint. Whenever you contract your muscle, it moves the tendon and in turn, the tendon pulls the joint to move the entire part of your body. Relaxing your muscle does the opposite.
If your tendon becomes overworked, irritated, or inflamed, it becomes shorter and breaks down. This is called tendonitis. Although you can experience tendonitis from a sudden injury, you’re more likely to develop it from the repetition of a specific movement over time. Two of the common types of tendonitis you might encounter include tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow.
When this occurs, you might experience tenderness and pain right outside the joint, especially when moving the affected area. Although you typically experience tendonitis in any of your tendons, you usually find tendons most affected in the shoulders, wrists, elbows, knees, and heels.
What Are Some Treatments for Tendonitis?
Most signs of tendonitis respond well to self-care measures, but you should consult a doctor if you find that your symptoms persist and cause you to miss out on daily activities. Without proper treatment, tendonitis can lead to tendon rupture, which is a serious injury that requires surgery.
How Can You Prevent Tendonitis?
To reduce the chances of developing tendonitis, keep the following tips in mind when exercising:
- Change it up. If you find yourself in pain due to one specific activity or exercise, mix up your workout. Opt for a lower-impact exercise such as swimming or biking to counteract high-impact running.
- Stretch. After you exercise and your muscles are warm, take the time to stretch to work on the range of motion involving your joints. This can minimize the repetitive nature felt on tight tissues.
- Work on your technique. Having an incorrect technique can set you up for issues with your tendons. Consider obtaining professional instruction or taking lessons if you’re not familiar with an activity or sport.
You can also get tendonitis from work. The best way to remedy any tendonitis issues at work is to use proper workplace ergonomics. Adjust your chair, desktop, and keyboard to the recommendations based on your height, arm length, and types of typical tasks you perform. Making your desk more ergonomic can protect your tendons and joints from excess stress.
Dealing with carpal tunnel or tendonitis pain can be difficult and inhibit your daily activities. Failing to address these issues can cause further damage and might hinder the treatment process. Thankfully, you have options when it comes to treating these issues so you can get back to leading a pain-free life. If you’re in the Dallas area, don’t wait another minute to contact us at The Hand and Wrist Institute so we can help you feel as good as new.