“Why am I feeling this way?” This is a common question we all ask ourselves. The context can range from a large spectrum of emotional awareness to realizing a new sensation inside your physical body.

When it comes to feeling new discomfort, it can be confusing to understand its origin or meaning and take time to investigate the new sensation and understand what is going on.

Joint discomfort is one of the most common sensations to develop throughout life, and for most people, it comes down, largely, between two causes: arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

This article won’t necessarily walk you through how to identify these two conditions symptomatically (that work should be up to your primary care provider) but it will shed light on what these conditions are and how they are different.

All Joints Can Hurt, but Not All Joint Pain is Equal

No matter how old you are, you’ve probably felt something like joint pain at least once in your life. Whether you slept wrong or you sprained your ankle, the truth is that our lives put a tremendous amount of wear and tear on the hinge points of our bodies, making them key locations for issues to arise.

A lot of the time we can experience acute joint discomfort that is linked to particular activities, like working out or extensive training over a period of weeks or months.

While these acute injuries can turn into chronic conditions if left untreated — we typically don’t wonder about them. The outcome matches the crime, and usually, rest from the activity is needed to alleviate the symptoms.

However, when it comes to more chronic discomfort, it becomes a little more tricky. Especially when the pain isn’t necessarily antagonized by a single activity or event occurring at rest. This is usually where our minds begin to wonder about words like ‘disease’ or ‘condition’, and we rush to the internet to try and figure out what’s going on.

Two very common types of chronic joint pain are carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.

While you should seek professional medical help when seeking to diagnose any pain you may be feeling — this article will help you better understand that while all joints can experience discomfort, not all joint pain is equal.

What Is Arthritis

Even though it’s very common for arthritis and carpal tunnel to come up when speaking of joint pain, they are very different conditions. While both can be noticed by a wide variety of symptoms from numbness, shooting, or dull feelings of discomfort. 

Arthritis itself is a term that refers to joint pain, and there are several different kinds of arthritis.

These types of arthritis can be categorized into four general categories of arthritis:

  • Degenerative
  • Inflammatory
  • Metabolic
  • Infectious

The key thing about arthritis is that it does actually cause issues with the literal joint associated. This is one of the key differences between it and carpal tunnel syndrome as we’ll see later.

Because arthritis is joint related the different types of arthritis are indicative of how they uniquely affect the joints themselves. Let’s take a look at two of the more common forms of arthritis and what type of arthritis they belong with:


Osteoarthritis is one of the most common types of arthritis affecting the largest population.

This form of arthritis falls under the degenerative type as it is normal to develop over time. As the name implies (osteo bone) this kind of arthritis affects the bone system, specifically the joints between the bones.

In the case of someone with osteoarthritis, cartilage is worn down or reduced so that there is no longer a protecting cushion between bones.

The importance of cartilage is primarily found in that it forms between bones to aid in a joint movement when it is gone and there is bone on bone contact that causes crepitus which can be very painful.

Multiple conditions can cause this kind of arthritis including weight issues, chronic high activity over a long period of time, or even your biological gender. Common places of pain would be knees and hands and usually have a later onset.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis is another common form of arthritis that belongs to the inflammatory type. Your body naturally has an immune system that utilizes inflammation in a positive way to help protect and disinfect itself from foreign pathogens.

While inflammation can be uncomfortable, it is part of your body’s normal response to threats. However, swelling can also be caused when your immune system is not acting correctly.

Most forms of arthritis do involve some kind of autoimmune state such as rheumatoid arthritis which targets joints and causes noticeable swelling and pain. This typically is most notable in the joints of the hand including the fingers.

Arthritis can have multiple reasons for onset and there are many different kinds of arthritis that people can develop. For instance, metabolic arthritis can come about and manifest as joint pain because of a buildup of uric acid.

Uric acid is a necessary part of your metabolism but also a substance that can form in excess under unfavorable conditions.

You can even get joint pain from arthritis that is caused by infectious agents like Hep C or exposure to foodborne contaminants like salmonella or bacterium like shigella.

What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The big takeaway from arthritis is that it is always associated with the joints that were experiencing the pain.

While carpal tunnel syndrome can sometimes have very similar symptoms, it is because of this area of distinction that we find the key differences between the two conditions.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is not a joint problem as much as it’s a nerve problem. The pain associated with carpal tunnel most definitely differs from arthritis in its ability to present with a numb, tingly, paresthesia.

If you’ve ever let your leg fall asleep by sitting weird during a movie, then you’ve experienced something similar to carpal tunnel syndrome. The same could be experienced if you have ever woken up with an arm positioned under you abnormally and felt a period of uncomfortable ‘pins and needles’ sensation before it returned to normal.

The syndrome itself speaks to the anatomical area of the wrist that houses the main culprit in carpal tunnel syndrome. That culprit is none other than the Median nerve. This nerve travels through the carpal tunnel of the wrist and innervates the hand.

The carpal tunnel itself has more than just this important nerve running through it, however, as it also houses five carpal bones and multiple tendons. These carpal bones form the base of the tunnel while the transverse carpal ligament pulls over the entire structure to form the ‘tunnel’ itself.

Issues arise in carpal tunnel specifically when tendonitis causes swelling in the tendons running through the carpal tunnel and this, in turn, causes unnatural pressure to build against the median nerve. This build of pressure impedes the nerve’s ability to function correctly and manifests itself in a symptomatic fashion. 

Hand weakness, tingling and numbness, and even pain can be noticed by carpal tunnel syndrome. It can lead to impairment of the normal function of the wrist. If this condition is suspected, then a professional medical assessment should be sought out immediately.

Who’s At Risk? 

Professions involving writing, music or even repetitive factory work can lead to a case of inflamed tendons in the hand that can compress the median nerve.

The median nerve itself specifically innervates the thumb and first and second finger, so tingling, numbness, or paresthesia in these areas could be indicative of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Understanding the Difference

These two conditions are experienced by a wide variety of people and are actually somewhat common. Although the symptoms of carpal tunnel and arthritis can seem hard to distinguish between, knowing their sources can help you know what direction to take when seeking correction or relief.

While medical professionals should always consult with their healthcare providers to help diagnose and treat such conditions, there are certain over-the-counter options available for consideration.

The team at Hempvana works hard to provide quality options for those seeking safe, effective ways to help mitigate and manage unpleasant symptoms associated with carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis.