Have you ever heard the rumor that typing at a computer can be a risk factor for carpal tunnel and wrist tendonitis? It’s an unsettling thought, as technology is a huge part of our everyday lives.
Luckily, however, no studies have shown that typing causes carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendonitis. “Jobs that require the repetitive use of power tools are actually more likely to cause these issues,” says Ryan Beekman, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Henry Ford Health.
Using power tools produces vibrations that 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. Like arthritis and related issues, people are more likely to develop carpal tunnel or tendonitis as they get older.
So what is the difference between carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendonitis? Here are the two conditions broken down:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused when the median nerve in the wrist (which extends from the forearm to the hand) becomes pinched. This can lead to numbness or tingling throughout the hand and through the thumb to the ring finger. “Many people experience these symptoms more often at night,” says Dr. Beekman. “Sometimes the pain is enough to wake them up.”
Treatment: For most people, wearing a wrist brace, going to occupational therapy or getting steroid injections can help alleviate or lessen symptoms. Your doctor will initially try to treat carpal tunnel without invasive methods, but serious cases will require surgery. Surgery repairs nerve damage so you can regain 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. Beekman. This condition causes swelling of the wrist. Sometimes, symptoms appear after a wrist injury.
Treatment: If you experience symptoms, consider taking an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (think naproxen or ibuprofen) before seeing a doctor. You can even ice your wrist. Most doctors will recommend trying these options before suggesting other treatments. 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 wrist tendonitis.
Overall, the biggest difference 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. While 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’s still a good idea to take breaks and practice proper body position to avoid injury.
“If you experience these symptoms while working, your doctor can make a note that you have a work restriction,” says Dr. Beekman. If your symptoms become too painful for you to work or perform daily tasks, seek immediate medical attention.
Reviewed by Ryan Beekman, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand and wrist care at Henry Ford Health. He sees patients at Henry Ford Medical Center – Jackson.