Does Hand and Wrist Pain Always Mean Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Aug 02, 2023

Does Hand and Wrist Pain Always Mean Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Hand and wrist pain is often attributed to carpal tunnel syndrome, but that’s not always the case. Here’s why proper diagnosis is important.

Among the different causes of hand and wrist pain, carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) gets the most attention. It’s the most common form of nerve entrapment, but not all cases of hand and wrist pain are caused by CTS, and a specialist might be necessary to diagnose the exact cause of your symptoms. 

At Advanced Orthopedics & Sports Medicine (AOSM), with locations in Union City and Dyersburg, Tennessee, Dr. Michael Calfee, Paxton Sisson PA-C, and the rest of our skilled team diagnose the causes of hand and wrist pain, including carpal tunnel syndrome, and create a personalized treatment plan just for you. 

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome 

The hallmark feature of carpal tunnel syndrome is hand and wrist pain, caused by compression of the median nerve. This is the nerve that runs through your wrist and provides movement and feeling to four of your five fingers. 

The problem is that the median nerve and multiple tendons run through the carpal tunnel, a narrow passageway between the bones of your wrist. In the event of injury or inflammation, the median nerve is pressed and squeezed. This not only causes hand and wrist pain, but other symptoms such as:

  • Numbness, burning, itching, or tingling 
  • The urge to “shake out” the wrist 
  • Weakness of the fingers 
  • Hand falling asleep at night

Women are three times more likely to develop CTS than men, likely because their wrists are smaller. Artists, musicians, typists, and factory or construction workers are all at risk of developing the condition, among others who regularly flex and bend their wrists at work or play. 

Your CTS is most likely to flare up after holding your wrist in a bent position, especially while sleeping, driving, or holding a book or phone. If you work with a keyboard, you might notice stiffness and tingling after a day of typing. 

Diagnosing hand and wrist pain

Carpal tunnel syndrome is far from the only cause of hand and wrist pain. If your symptoms don’t quite align with the CTS experience, it might be because something else is wrong. Hand and wrist pain can be caused by trauma, overuse, or arthritis. 

A recent fall onto your outstretched hand can easily lead to sprains, strains, and even fractures that are slow to heal. You can also cause damage from overuse that doesn’t involve the carpal tunnel but results in similar effects.

Osteoarthritis typically occurs in older patients who have overworked or injured their wrist in the past, and rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammatory pain in your wrists, hands, and fingers. There are also other conditions that cause similar symptoms, including baseball or trigger finger and DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis. 

At Advanced Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, our team reviews your medical history and performs diagnostic tests to determine exactly what’s causing your hand and wrist pain — whether that’s carpal tunnel or something else.

To schedule a consultation, call the AOSM location closest to you, or book an appointment online.