A wrist sprain is a common injury for all sorts of athletes. All it takes is a momentary loss of balance. As you slip, you automatically stick your hand out to break your fall. But once your hand hits the ground, the force of impact bends it back toward your forearm. This can stretch the ligaments that connect the wrist and hand bones a little too far. The result is tiny tears or — even worse — a complete break to the ligament.
A sprain in the wrist is an injury to its ligaments, the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to one another inside a joint. Although most people speak of the wrist as a single joint between the forearm and hand, the wrist actually contains many joints that link 15 separate bones. The ligaments that connect these bones can be torn by any extreme twist, bend or impact that suddenly forces the wrist into a position beyond its normal range of motion.
There Are Three Levels Of Sprain
- Mild (Grade I) — The wrist’s ligaments are stretched or have microscopic tears.
- Moderate (Grade II) — The damage is more severe, and some wrist ligaments may be partially torn.
- Severe sprains (Grade III) — One or more wrist ligaments are entirely torn or torn away from where they normally attach to bones.
Sprained Wrist Symptoms
A sprained wrist is painful. Other symptoms may include:
- Tenderness to touch
- A feeling of popping or tearing inside the wrist
- A feeling of warmth around the wrist
Even a wrist injury that seems mild with minimal swelling could still involve a torn ligament and require surgery to avoid long-term problems.
Similarly, an unrecognized (occult) fracture can be mistaken for a mild or moderate sprain. If left untreated, the fracture may not heal properly and the patient could require a surgery that might have been avoided with early, appropriate treatment. The most common example of this is an occult fracture of the scaphoid, one of the small bones in the wrist.
It is important for your doctor to evaluate even a mild wrist injury if it does not improve quickly. This is especially important if the injury causes persistent wrist pain. Proper diagnosis and treatment of wrist injuries is necessary to avoid long-term problems, including chronic pain, stiffness, and arthritis.
How To Wrap A Sprained Wrist
If you injure your wrist in a fall or accident, you may need to wrap it to help with the swelling and to speed up healing. A minor wrist sprain can often be treated with compression wrapping, but if you have severe pain in your wrist, seek medical attention.
Here are the steps for wrapping your wrist:
- Wrap the bandage around your wrist once, starting at the pinky side of your hand and with your hand facing down.
- Pull the bandage to your thumb side and wrap around your palm once.
- Cross the bandage back down to your wrist and wrap again around the wrist.
- Reverse your wrap to the pinky side of the hand and around the palm.
- Wrap around the wrist again.
- Use the rest of the wrap to stabilize the wrist. Make sure that you don’t wrap your wrist too tightly. If your fingers begin to tingle or go numb, you should remove the bandage and rewrap.
How To Treat A Sprained Wrist
Initial evaluation and diagnosis of a wrist sprain injury may be done in an urgent care or emergency department or by a primary care provider in an office.
If the sprain is minor, a primary care provider may continue care and subsequent follow-up. If the injury is more severe, care is often provided by an orthopedic surgeon or sports medicine specialist. An orthopedic surgeon or hand surgeon will be involved if surgery is required. Physical therapists are often involved in care and rehabilitation even if no surgery is needed.
Sprained Wrist Recovery Time
Recovery depends upon the severity of the injury. Mild (grade 1) sprains may resolve in one to two weeks, while more severe injuries may take weeks.
If surgery is required, the healing time may be eight to 12 weeks, but it might take six months to a year to recover full power and range of motion.
Sprained Wrist Exercises
- Wrist range of motion
- Flexion: Gently bend your wrist forward. Hold for 5 seconds. Do 2 sets of 15.
- Extension: Gently bend your wrist backward. Hold this position 5 seconds. Do 2 sets of 15.
- Side to side: Gently move your wrist from side to side (a handshake motion). Hold for 5 seconds in each direction. Do 2 sets of 15.
- Wrist stretch: Press the back of the hand on your injured side with your other hand to help bend your wrist. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Next, stretch the hand back by pressing the fingers in a backward direction. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Keep the arm on your injured side straight during this exercise. Do 3 sets.
- Wrist extension stretch: Stand at a table with your palms down, fingers flat, and elbows straight. Lean your body weight forward. Hold this position for 15 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
- Wrist flexion stretch: Stand with the back of your hands on a table, palms facing up, fingers pointing toward your body, and elbows straight. Lean away from the table. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
- Forearm pronation and supination: Bend the elbow of your injured arm 90 degrees, keeping your elbow at your side. Turn your palm up and hold for 5 seconds. Then slowly turn your palm down and hold for 5 seconds. Make sure you keep your elbow at your side and bent 90 degrees while you do the exercise. Do 2 sets of 15.When this exercise becomes pain free, do it with some weight in your hand such as a soup can or hammer handle.
Sprained Wrist Vs Broken Wrist
The wrist is anatomically complex. A wrist sprain occurs when a ligament in the wrist is injured. Ligaments are bands of connective tissue that stretch from one bone to another. Wrist sprains typically involve stretching or tearing a ligament.
In contrast, a broken wrist occurs when you actually fracture a bone in the wrist. The wrist consists of 13 different bones, and any of these could be fractured during an injury. This could be as small as a hairline fracture in the bone, but a broken wrist can cause major pain.
How to Know the Difference When Your Wrist Is Injured
Before your appointment, you may be able to distinguish between a broken wrist and a wrist sprain in the following ways:
- Range of motion.Gently attempt to rotate your wrist. In a wrist sprain, you may be able to experience the entire range of motion (although it will be painful to move the joint).
- Characterize the pain.The severity and intensity of pain depends on the injury. Generally, however, a broken wrist is described as an intense, sharp, stabbing pain. In contrast, a moderate to severe wrist sprain may be more of a throbbing pain. This is due to torn or stretched ligaments.
- Assess crookedness.When the bones of the wrist are broken, they cause the joint to look crooked or misaligned. In contrast, a wrist sprain results in swelling but does not typically cause crookedness. In very severe cases, a broken wrist may have bone protruding through the skin.
- X-ray.An X-ray remains the best way to differentiate between wrist fractures and sprains.