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Carpal tunnel vs tendinitis: What's the difference?

Carpal Tunnel Vs Tendonitis
3 minutes, 14 seconds

So, you’re experiencing a recurring pain in your hand that radiates through your finger and wrist. You’ve probably looked up your symptoms and come across a few different results. It seems that it could most likely be carpal tunnel syndrome or tendinitis, based on your pain. The two conditions are very similar, but how do you know which one is which?


Although carpal tunnel and tendinitis seem similar, they do have some important differences. Learning the difference between the two can help ensure that you get the right treatment for your unique condition and get the relief you’re looking for.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition in which a nerve that runs through the wrist, called the median nerve, becomes compressed. This nerve compression can cause uncomfortable physical symptoms including numbness, pain and even burning. Some people with carpal tunnel syndrome report limited mobility and difficulties using their hands or wrists.

Tendinitis is a condition involving the inflammation of a tendon in the body. The inflammation of the tendon, specifically when it occurs in the hand or wrist, can cause disruptive pain or discomfort. Getting treatment can help relieve pain and inflammation so that returning to normal activities can be achieved.

What are the differences between carpal tunnel and tendinitis?

Although the two may seem similar at first, there are a couple of distinct differences that set the pair apart. 

  • The causes — The reasons why each of these conditions may occur are different. Carpal tunnel syndrome is most often caused by the compression or pinching of a nerve. Tendinitis is most often caused by the presence of inflammation in the tendons.
  • The location of pain — Where the pain occurs in the body is another good indication of which condition you may be experiencing. Carpal tunnel pain most often occurs on the inside of the wrist, close to the base of the thumb. It can be felt in the bottom of the thumb near the palm. Tendinitis pain most frequently occurs on the opposite side. People with tendinitis experience pain around their pinky fingers and the outside of their wrists.

It’s important to consult with a qualified medical professional to determine which of these two conditions you may be experiencing. Getting a professional medical diagnosis is important because it can determine what type of treatment you receive. The treatment options for carpal tunnel and tendinitis can differ, and if you self-diagnose or receive an inaccurate diagnosis, the corresponding treatment may be ineffective.

What are some of the treatment options for carpal tunnel? For tendinitis?

  • Splints — One treatment option for individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome is splinting. Some people find that wearing a splint or brace on the wrist can help reduce carpal tunnel pain. The purpose of the splint is to reduce pressure placed on the compressed nerve and limit the movements that may aggravate the pain.
  • Steroids — A treatment option for individuals experiencing tendinitis is steroids. The use of corticosteroid injections is sometimes used as an option to reduce inflammation around a tendon. These injections are not always effective as a long-term solution and may require more than one injection over time.
  • Physical therapy — Physical therapy is a good option for both tendinitis and carpal tunnel sufferers. The right kinds of guided movements and exercises can help reduce pain by minimizing inflammation and easing pressure placed on compressed nerves. If you’ve been diagnosed with either of these conditions, physical therapy may be a helpful treatment option for you. Consulting with a physical therapist who can provide you with a personalized treatment plan is likely to be an effective method of finding relief.

Alliance PTP is ready to help you find top-notch PT for both carpal tunnel and tendinitis

At Alliance Physical Therapy Partners, we’re proudly bringing together physical therapy practices across the country to help people get the high-quality PT they need. 

Want to see a physical therapist in person? We can put you in touch with an Alliance PTP partner that’s close to you and that can help you address carpal tunnel or tendinitis, whichever you may be experiencing. 

Not keen on in-person PT sessions or not close to an Alliance PTP partner? No worries. We also offer effective and affordable virtual physical therapy through our Agile Virtual Physical Therapy platform. 

Come find help for your injury or chronic condition today!


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