For years, you have probably heard about the risk of carpal tunnel or wrist tendonitis for people that spend most of their days typing at a computer. That’s a scary thought as technology is becoming a bigger part of our everyday lives.
Elizabeth King, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon with Henry Ford Health, says not to worry.
“No studies have been able to demonstrate that carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendonitis are caused by typing,” says Dr. King. “Recent studies actually show jobs that require the repetitive use of power tools are more likely to cause these issues.”
The vibrations produced by using these tools are more likely to cause problems with the nerves and tendons in your wrist. Assembly line jobs can also cause issues due to the constant flexing and extending of the wrist. In many cases, age also plays a part on the onset of these conditions. Like arthritis and other related issues, people are more likely to develop carpel tunnel or tendonitis as they get older.
So what is the difference between carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendonitis? Here’s the two conditions broken down:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when the median nerve in the wrist becomes pinched. This can lead to numbness or tingling throughout the hand and through the thumb to ring finger. “Many patients experience these symptoms more at night,” Dr. King says. “Sometimes the pain is enough to wake them up.”
Treatment: Depending on the severity of the case, your doctor may recommend a series of different treatments. For most people, wearing a wrist brace, occupational therapy or steroid injections can help alleviate or lessen these symptoms. Your doctor will always try to treat carpal tunnel without invasive methods first, but many serious cases will need surgery. Surgery is used to repair nerve damage to get you back to having normal mobility in your wrist and hand.
Wrist tendonitis can occur when any of the tendons in your wrist become inflamed. “There are about 10 or so tendons that could possibly be affected,” says Dr. King. This condition causes swelling of the wrist. Sometimes, symptoms appear following a wrist injury.
Treatment: If you do experience symptoms, consider taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (think Aleve or ibuprofen) before seeing a doctor. You can even try icing your wrist. Most doctors will recommend you do these things before other treatment is suggested. Like carpal tunnel, wrist tendonitis is treatable through wrist bracing, steroid injections and occupational therapy. However, unlike carpal tunnel, surgery is not used to treat this condition.
Overall, the biggest different between carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendonitis is that one affects the nerves and the other affects the tendons.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent these conditions from occurring. Despite the fact that typing and other repetitive office tasks may not be the causes of carpal tunnel or tendonitis, they can aggravate the problem and cause more pain. So, it is still best practice to take breaks and practice proper body position to avoid injury.
“If you feel these symptoms at your job, your doctor can make a note that you have a work restriction,” says Dr. King. If your symptoms ever get too bad for you to work or perform daily tasks, seek immediate medical attention.
To find an orthopedic surgeon at Henry Ford, visit henryford.com/hand or call 1-800-436-7936.
Dr. Elizabeth King is an orthopedic surgeon, specializing in hand surgery, and sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital and Henry Ford Medical Center – Fairlane.