Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and tendonitis can overlap. It is important to distinguish between the two to receive appropriate treatment.

CTS occurs when tissues swell and compress the median nerve, the main nerve from the forearm to the hand.

This can be due to multiple factors, including repetitive hand motions or medical conditions, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, or hypothyroidism. Risk factors include female sex, age, and having obesity.

Tendonitis is a condition involving inflammation of the tendons, which causes pain, swelling, and difficulty performing some activities.

Tendonitis or tendinitis usually results from injury or repetitive activities. It may also occur with arthritis, metabolic conditions, or medications.

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While both tendonitis and CTS can cause swelling and pain, the symptoms can differ.

For example, individuals with tendonitis may not experience tingling and numbness, which are some of the main symptoms of CTS.

Additionally, someone with tendonitis may experience pain that radiates to their pinky finger, which does not typically occur with CTS. CTS usually affects the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers.

With CTS, a person might have cold and swollen fingers and feel the need to shake their hand or wrist to relieve the sensation.

Symptoms of CTS may also occur during the night, and a person can experience numbness when they wake up in the morning.

Why does the difference matter?

CTS and tendonitis may present with similar symptoms, making it difficult for individuals to distinguish between them. However, understanding the difference between the two is important for receiving an appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

Symptoms of CTS and tendonitis of the wrist can overlap. The following table outlines symptoms common in both conditions:

weakness and clumsiness in the hand
tingling in the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers
wrist pain
swelling around the wrist
localized pain near the affected tendon
pain and tingling that travel to the forearm
shock-like sensations traveling to the fingers

CTS and tendonitis can both result from repetitive actions performed over longer periods. They also have similar risk factors, such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and age.

Causes of CTS

Certain activities and repetitive motions performed over longer periods that can lead to CTS include:

  • frequent computer use
  • use of hand tools for occupation
  • playing an instrument

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), certain occupational groups accounted for more than 70% of CTS cases in 2001. These categories involved laborers and fabricators, as well as people working in technical and administrative support.

Causes of tendonitis

As with CTS, overextension of the tendons through repetitive movements can cause the condition. Some repetitive actions that can lead to tendonitis include:

  • crocheting
  • playing tennis
  • hammering
  • typing

Some risk factors for CTS and tendonitis can also overlap.

Risk factors for CTS

Several risk factors associated with the development of CTS include the following:

According to a 2023 article, CTS typically occurs in adults between 40 and 60 years old. Females are more likely to develop the condition. In addition, people who have obesity have double the risk of developing CTS.

Risk factors for tendonitis

Several risk factors for tendonitis include:

Knowing the difference between the two conditions can lead to a speedy and appropriate diagnosis.

A doctor may initially consider someone’s medical record and ask questions about any symptoms they might be experiencing.

They may then perform a physical exam to rule out any other conditions. During this examination, they may look for:

  • any tingling in the fingers
  • numbness in the hand and fingers
  • weakness at the base of the thumb
  • muscle atrophy, in more severe cases

Healthcare professionals can typically diagnose both CTS and tendonitis by looking at an individual’s medical history and performing a physical examination, but sometimes more tests may be necessary, including:

Treatment for CTS and tendonitis typically involves a combination of at-home exercises and pain relievers. Unless symptoms persist, both conditions may resolve without surgical interventions.

Treatment for CTS

Treatment for CTS can involve:

If at-home exercises do not ease symptoms, a doctor may recommend surgery.

Treatment for tendonitis

Like CTS, treatment for tendonitis may include:

In severe cases — when a tendon ruptures — surgery may be necessary.

CTS and tendonitis can typically resolve with conservative treatment but may require surgery in more severe cases.

A person may need to consult a doctor if their symptoms do not ease with at-home treatment or persist for long periods of time.

A doctor may need to perform more tests and rule out any other possible conditions.

Can tendonitis cause a lump on the wrist?

Tendonitis does not typically cause a lump on the wrist.

Conditions that can cause a lump on the wrist include a ganglion cyst, a carpometacarpal boss, or rheumatoid arthritis.

A person may contact a doctor for more personalized advice on their condition.

Can tendonitis mimic carpal tunnel?

Symptoms of tendonitis and carpal tunnel can overlap. Both can cause pain and tenderness, as well as swelling and stiffness. However, tendonitis does not typically cause tingling and numbness.

Are there different types of wrist tendonitis?

A common type of wrist tendonitis is de Quervain’s tendonitis. Other types of tendonitis can include tendonitis of the wrist flexor and extensor tendons, intersection syndrome, and trigger finger or trigger thumb.

CTS occurs when nearby tissue compresses the median nerve, which connects the forearm to the wrist and all fingers except the little finger and part of the ring finger.

CTS can cause tingling and numbness in the hand and fingers that can worsen at night and even affect the shoulder in more severe cases.

Like CTS, tendonitis can cause pain and swelling of the wrist but does not typically cause tingling and numbness, and the pain is more localized to the affected area.

Both conditions can resolve with exercise and medications, but more severe cases may require surgery. A person may need to contact a doctor for more in-depth advice.