hand pain

If you experience pain, numbness, or tingling in your hand and wrist, you may be wondering if you have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) or tendonitis. Both conditions can cause similar symptoms, but they’re actually quite different. There are also some key differences between the two conditions. Either way, knowing their differences is vital when it comes to treating it, ensuring that you live a life that’s free from either CTS or tendonitis, or even both.

That said, let’s talk about what carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis are and their main differences:

What Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

CTS is a condition that occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm to the hand, becomes compressed or pinched as it passes through the carpal tunnel. This can cause tingling, numbness, and weakness in the hand and fingers. CTS is often caused by repetitive motions of the wrist, such as typing or using a mouse, and is more common in women than men.

What Is Tendonitis?

Tendonitis, on the other hand, is an inflammation of the tendons, the tissues that connect muscle to bone. This can be caused by overuse, injury, or repetitive motions. Tendonitis can occur in any part of the body but is most common in the shoulder, elbow, wrist, and knee. Symptoms of tendonitis include pain, stiffness, and tenderness.

What Are the Key Differences between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Tendonitis?

Although CTS and tendonitis share some similarities, there are also some key differences between the two conditions. CTS is caused by compression of the median nerve, while tendonitis is caused by inflammation of the tendons. CTS typically affects the wrist and hand, while tendonitis can occur in any part of the body. CTS is more common in women, while tendonitis is more common in men.

How Do I Know If I Have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Tendonitis?

So, how can you tell the difference between carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis? Here are a few key points:

1. The Cause

Carpal tunnel syndrome is usually caused by repetitive motions of the wrist, such as typing or using a mouse. Tendonitis is usually caused by overuse of the affected joint, such as repetitively lifting weights.

2. The Location

Carpal tunnel syndrome typically causes symptoms in the thumb and first three fingers. Tendonitis can cause symptoms in any joint.

3. The Timing

Carpal tunnel syndrome is often worse at night. Tendonitis is typically worse with activity.

If you’re not sure whether you have carpal tunnel syndrome or tendonitis, your best bet is to see a doctor. They can perform a physical exam and order tests, such as an MRI, to make a diagnosis.

How Is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or Tendonitis Treated?

Although they have different causes, CTS and tendonitis are often treated in similar ways:

1. Rest

Resting the hand and wrist is often the first step in treating these conditions. This can help to reduce inflammation and pain.

2. Ice

Ice can also be used to help reduce inflammation and pain. Applying ice for 15-20 minutes several times a day can be helpful.

3. Anti-inflammatory Medications

Anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can also be helpful in reducing inflammation and pain. These medications can be taken orally or applied topically.

4. Splinting or Bracing

In some cases, splinting or bracing the hand and wrist can help to relieve symptoms. This can help to rest the tendons and reduce the amount of inflammation.

5. Surgery

If conservative measures do not relieve symptoms, surgery may be necessary. Surgery is usually only considered when other treatments have failed.


As you can see, while CTS and tendonitis may have their similarities, they are also quite different in terms of cause. Regardless, both issues can interfere with one’s quality of life significantly, and if you find yourself dealing with either or even both of the issues, it is vital to find treatment right away. In doing so, you can live a happy and, more importantly, pain-free life!

North Florida Hand and Wrist is a center led by expert hand-and-wrist surgeons who are committed to giving patients the best care possible. If you are looking for carpal tunnel surgery and more, contact us right away!