Man Experiencing Pain in his Wrists

Rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome are often misidentified as one another when linked to symptoms of joint pain in the hands. However, the distinction is extremely important in order for the most appropriate treatment to be pursued.

These are the key differences between rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome and why the timing of diagnosis and treatment is so important for these two painful conditions.

Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain in the Hands

Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that is caused by the body’s own immune system.1 This autoimmune disorder occurs in the hands when the body’s immune system attacks its own bodily tissues by mistake. It has a painful impact on the lining of the joints, causing swelling, bone erosion, and even joint deformities in severe cases.

Buy On Amazon

Rheumatoid arthritis in the hands feels like swelling and stiffness, with joints that are tender and warm to the touch.2,3,4,5 Symptoms typically occur on both sides of the body and get worse over time with pain that comes and goes. Over-the-counter medications like JointFlex are effective in treating the painful symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, providing powerful and fast-acting arthritis relief without a prescription.

Understanding Carpal Tunnel Pain in the Hands

Conversely, carpal tunnel syndrome is caused as a result of compression of the median nerve and wear and tear over time.6,8 This nerve extends from the forearm through the wrist and into the hand.7 Repetitive work, a wrist fracture, and chronic diseases like diabetes are risk factors for developing carpal tunnel syndrome.8,9 Inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome as well.10

Carpal tunnel syndrome feels like numbness and tingling in the hands that can be described as a “pins and needles sensation.”6,7,8 This condition gets worse with use, especially while gripping objects or bending the wrist. Symptoms may be felt in either one hand or both hands and symptoms tend to be worse at night. Nonsurgical therapies for treatment include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and wrist splinting.7,11 Surgery may be required for severe cases to relieve pressure on the median nerve.

The Important of Timely Diagnosis and Treatment

Both rheumatoid arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome have long-term implications if they are not addressed quickly and correctly. That’s why this distinction between the two conditions must be made and well-understood.

People who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis often have joint pain in other regions of the body in addition to the hands.5 Carpal tunnel syndrome pain, however, is typically restricted to the hand, forearm, and shoulder.12 The tingling and numbness of carpal tunnel syndrome distinguish themselves from rheumatoid arthritis pain because it often doesn’t affect the pinky finger as badly, it’s triggered by repetitive motion, and it extends up the forearm.

Hand and wrist pain may also be attributed to an injury of the tendon, ligament, or bone or even a nerve problem in the fingers or neck.13 It is important to consult a trusted medical professional to properly diagnose and recommend treatment for the precise hand and joint pain condition that one suffers from.

Buy On Amazon


1. Kontzias, A. (2017 July). Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 19, 2018 from,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/joint-disorders/rheumatoid-arthritis-ra.
2. Arthritis of the hand. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Retrieved October 17, 2018 from–conditions/arthritis-of-the-hand/.
3. What makes my joints stiff in the morning? Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
4. Scott, J. T. (1960). Morning Stiffness in Rheumatoid Arthritis. Annals of Rheumatic Diseases, 19, 361-368. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
5. Ezerioha, M. (2016). RA Symptoms: How Do You Diagnose Rheumatoid Arthritis? Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
6. Steinberg, D. R. (2018 August). Carpal tunnel syndrome. The Merck Manual: Consumer Version. Retrieved October 17, 2018 from,-joint,-and-muscle-disorders/hand-disorders/carpal-tunnel-syndrome.
7. Carpal tunnel syndrome. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from–conditions/carpal-tunnel-syndrome/.
8. Carpal tunnel syndrome fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
9. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. American College of Rheumatology. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
10. Chamberlain, M. A. & Corbett, M. (1970). Carpal tunnel syndrome in early rheumatoid arthritis. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 29, 149-152. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
11. Don’t delay treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome. Harvard Health Publishing. Retrieved October 18, 2018 from
12. DeVries, C. (2013 March 22). Is My Hand Pain Caused by Arthritis or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Veritas Health. Retrieved October 19, 2018 from
13. Wrist pain. MedlinePlus. Retrieved October 20, 2018 from