Conditions Confused with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

There are more than 3 million cases of carpal tunnel syndrome diagnosed in the US every year. And many of these cases are related to either computer keyboard use or manual labor. So, many people assume that it is carpal tunnel syndrome when pain, tingling, numbness, and/or weakness occurs in the hands or wrist.

But, while carpal tunnel syndrome is a common disorder, there are also several other conditions that can trigger nearly identical symptoms in the hands and wrist. In this article, Detroit area board certified hand surgeon Dr. Uzma Rehman discusses conditions that are often mistaken for carpal tunnel syndrome.

Remember, carpal tunnel syndrome is much more common than many of these conditions listed below. For example, it’s estimated that as many as 20% of manual laborers and 10% of office workers may have carpal tunnel syndrome. While less than 5% of the general public are estimated to have Reynaud’s syndrome or the other wrist disorders listed below.

Nerve Conditions with Symptoms Similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Cervical Radiculopathy

Several nerves that control the hands and fingers originate in the cervical spine (particularly C6 and C7). If these nerves become compressed from a degenerated or herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or osteoarthritis, it can result in pain and numbness that may be very similar to carpal tunnel syndrome.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

The ulnar nerve runs down the arm, passes over the elbow, and into the outside of the hand on the pinkie side. This is the same nerve that causes “funny bone” pain when it the elbow is struck. Repeated use or pressure on the elbow can cause this nerve to become inflamed. This can cause symptoms of pain and tingling in the hand, that are very similar to carpal tunnel syndrome.

One can typically tell the difference because carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms occur in the thumb, index, and middle fingers, while cubital (ulnar) nerve symptoms affect the ring and pinky finger.

Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

This is a much more rare condition than carpal tunnel syndrome. This occurs when the space between the collarbone and upper ribs is narrowed, so it causes compression of the blood vessels and nerves.

Compression from thoracic outlet syndrome can result in pain, numbness, or weakness in the hands, like carpal tunnel syndrome. But it also typically causes pain in the neck and shoulders, which carpal tunnel syndrome does not.


The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that roughly 60 to 70 percent of people with diabetes will eventually develop some form of neuropathy, or nerve damage. While diabetic neuropathy can occur anywhere, it typically affects the farthest extremities (feet and then hands) first.

So, tingling in the feet typically rules out carpal tunnel syndrome. Additionally, simple blood glucose testing can determine if a patient has diabetes.

Tendon Injuries with Symptoms Similar to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Conditions involving inflammation of the tendons (tendonitis) or the sheath that protects the tendon (tenosynovitis) can mimic carpal tunnel syndrome. Similarly, tendons can degenerate and become damaged (tendinosis) – also causing pain, tingling and stiffness that resembles carpal tunnel syndrome.

De Quervain’s Syndrome

De Quervain’s Syndrome (also called De Quervain’s Disease, tenosynovitis, tendinosis, or tendonitis) occurs when the two tendons on the top of the thumb become irritated and inflamed. This causes pain on the back of the thumb when an individual makes a fist or moves the wrist, as well as numbness or stiffness in the thumb.

But if the symptoms occur in the thumb only – and not the fingers, wrist, and hand – there is a good possibility it is De Quervain’s Syndrome and not carpal tunnel syndrome.

Trigger Finger

If the sheath (synovium) that protects the tendon becomes inflamed in a finger or thumb, the tendon may catch on the sheath. This can cause the finger to “stick” in a bent position, then suddenly snap back into place.

Trigger finger most frequently affects the thumb or ring finger, but it can also affect multiple fingers at once. It differs from carpal tunnel syndrome in that it is typically more pronounced in the morning, and while firmly grasping an object, or when straightening the finger.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome | Hand Doctor | Detroit Area

If you are suffering from an injury or pain in your fingers, wrist, elbow or arm, contact board certified Detroit area hand doctor Uzma Rehman, MD for a comprehensive evaluation and consultation. As with most medical conditions, early detection, awareness, and a prevention or treatment plan is the most effective way to combat the effects of conditions like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Doctor Rehman will assess your individual situation, and give you an accurate diagnosis – so she can prescribe the best and most advanced treatments that are best for your condition.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Doctor | Detroit Area: 248.335.2638