Summary: When men and women experience joint pain in the hands and wrists, they often assume that they have either arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). Since symptoms of both of these conditions may be improved with over-the-counter self-care, it’s tempting to skip the actual diagnosis part and jump straight into buying splints or ibuprofen. In reality, there are a number of other conditions that could cause joint pain, which is why it’s so essential to get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible. Here are four other conditions that could be responsible for your symptoms.


1. Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a musculoskeletal disorder that causes widespread pain throughout the body, along with fatigue, sleep disturbances, mood swings and problems with memory. Symptoms are sometimes triggered by a distinct physical or psychological trauma, or may develop gradually over time. The dull ache associated with fibromyalgia originates in the muscles, and occurs in both sides of the body. Pain worsens when pressure is applied to “tender points” throughout the body, such as the back of the head or the outer elbows. When a tender point lands near a joint, patients may believe they have arthritis.

2. Tendonitis

The thick cords that attach your muscles to the bones are called tendons, and tendonitis is diagnosed when they become irritated or inflamed. Typically, this occurs just outside a joint, causing an aching pain in response to joint movement. As far as the physical symptoms go, these are very similar to those seen in CTS, especially if they occur near the wrist or elbow. This can cause men and women to suspect that they need carpal tunnel treatment, when they should actually be treated for tendonitis.

3. Bursitis

The bones, tendons and muscles near the joints are cushioned by tiny pads called bursae. Bursitis is diagnosed when the bursae become inflamed. Bursitis is most common in the same joints where arthritis is often seen, including the hip and knee. Also like arthritis, bursitis symptoms may worsen in response to repetitive motion. Bursitis is typically treated with simple rest of the affected joint, although corticosteroid injections may be recommended if conservative treatments fail to deliver positive results.

4. Hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland is primarily responsible for controlling your metabolism. When the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, many metabolic systems in the body can stop functioning properly. One of the symptoms associated with hypothyroidism is muscle tenderness, along with joint pain and stiffness that could easily be mistaken for arthritis by a layperson. Upon examination by a doctor, however, there are several other clear signs that would indicate the problem lies not with the joints, but with the thyroid instead.

Seeking Treatment

The origins of joint pain, particularly in the hands and wrists, can be deceptive. For example, cubital tunnel syndrome originates at the elbow, although symptoms may include wrist pain. Treating the wrist directly won’t resolve the issue, because the root cause is pressure on the ulnar nerve. Similarly, arthritis treatments aren’t going to benefit the hand and wrist if the true cause of your joint pain is tendonitis.

The conditions listed above may be easily confused with arthritis, carpal tunnel or other common culprits for hand and wrist pain, especially if additional symptoms are mild or absent. Before beginning any type of self-treatment, no matter how minimal, be sure to get an accurate diagnosis as your first step.