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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and RA

  • Aug 10 2019

What is the relationship between carpal tunnel syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis?

Carpal tunnel syndrome has become a familiar condition, and there is a good reason for that. Most people have either experienced the pain and weakness in their own arm, hand or fingers or know someone who has. Classified as a compression nerve disorder, carpal tunnel syndrome affects somewhere between 4 and 10 million adults in the U.S. 

Not only is carpal tunnel syndrome the most common disorder of its kind, but it is also extremely costly. Americans rack up more than 2 billion dollars in medical bills, alone, each year, with corrective surgical procedures accounting for the bulk of the expense. The other costs, which are much more difficult to put a number to, are believed to be much higher. These include an average of nearly 28 days of lost workdays. In fact, almost one-fifth of all of those who develop carpal tunnel syndrome leave their jobs within a year and a half. 

Carpal tunnel syndrome develops as a result of the median nerve, which runs from the neck down through the arm and into the hand and fingers, except for the fifth digit more commonly known as the pinky finger. The median nerve travels through the carpal tunnel and when something happens to cause the nerve or the surrounding tendons to swell, the space inside the tunnel becomes compressed. Depending upon the level of compression, pressure is exerted upon the nerve which then results in pain and weakness in the areas it serves.  

Relationship Between Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

There was a time when it was assumed that if you had carpal tunnel syndrome, the cause was spending too much time at a keyboard. While it is true that repetitive movements, like those used by computer workers and in other occupations requiring long periods of time spent going through the same motions, there are other causes. Some of these include:

  • Wrist injuries
  • Issues with an individual’s glands, most often the pituitary or thyroid
  • Hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or menopause
  • Diabetes
  • Blockage in the carpal tunnel due to a cyst or tumor

In addition to these other causes, carpal tunnel syndrome is often related to the individual having arthritis, which causes the kind of swelling and inflammation in joints and tendons that leads to areas like the carpal tunnel becoming compressed. The two most common types of arthritis, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are both found to be responsible for causing the tendons around the median nerve to swell, but rheumatoid arthritis is most often the culprit. 

Not everyone who spends long hours typing away on a keyboard develops carpal tunnel syndrome and the same can be said of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, one does not necessarily go with the other. When RA is believed to be responsible, the carpal tunnel syndrome is treated by addressing arthritis. This is usually done through some combination of drugs, biologics, which are substances that come from natural sources rather than being chemically synthesized, and corticosteroids.  

If you have questions about carpal tunnel syndrome or any other orthopedic concerns, the physicians and staff of South Island Orthopedics are very experienced in a wide range of orthopedic conditions and are committed to providing personalized care in a state-of-the-art facility. To schedule an appointment, or if you just have questions, please use our convenient online contact form by clicking here.

Posted in: Hand & Wrist