A wrist sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments that support the wrist. Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that connect bones to each other. Repetitive motion can also lead to these types of injuries.
The most common cause of a wrist sprain is falling on an outstretched hand.
These factors increase your chance of developing a wrist sprain. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
- Playing sports
- Poor coordination
- Poor balance
- Inadequate flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
- Loose joints
- Not wearing wrist guards during activities such as in-line skating
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume they are due to a wrist sprain. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
- Pain, tenderness, and swelling around the wrist
- Redness, warmth, or bruising around the wrist
- Limited ability to move the wrist
It can be hard to tell the difference between a wrist sprain and a fracture or dislocation of one of the small wrist bones. See your doctor if there is any obvious deformity, swelling, or inability to move the wrist or hand.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and how you injured your wrist. An exam of your wrist will be done to check the stability of the joint and the severity of the injury.
Tests may include:
- X-ray—a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body, especially bones
- This is done to make sure no bones are broken. Sometimes fractures may not become visible on x-rays until several weeks have passed. X-rays can also show bones that move out of place because the ligaments that stabilize them have been torn.
- MRI scan—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
- CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
- Arthroscopy—a thin, lighted tube inserted through a small incision to look at structures inside the body
Bone scan—a test that detects areas of increased or decreased bone turnover
- This is sometimes needed to reveal hidden fractures.
Wrist sprains are graded according to their severity:
- Partial tearing of ligament tissue
- Mild instability of the joint
- May affect function of the hand and wrist
- Rest—Do not use your injured wrist and hand.
- Ice—Apply ice or a cold pack to the wrist for 15-20 minutes, four times a day for several days. This helps reduce pain and swelling. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin.
- Compression—Wrap your wrist in an elastic compression bandage (such as an Ace bandage). This will limit swelling and support your wrist.
- Elevation—Keep the injured wrist raised above your heart for 48 hours (for example, up on a pillow). This will help drain fluid and reduce swelling.
The following medicines may help reduce inflammation and pain:
- Ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil)
- Naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
Topical pain medicines are also available (such as creams or patches) that are applied to the skin.
- Brace—You may need to wear a brace to immobilize your wrist. If you play sports, you may need to wear a wrist brace, or tape your wrist when you return to play.
- Cast—If you have a severe sprain, your doctor may recommend a cast for 2-3 weeks.
- Rehabilitation exercises—Begin exercises to restore flexibility, range of motion, and strength in your wrist as recommended by your doctor.
- Surgery—Surgery is rarely needed to repair a wrist sprain. However, surgery may be needed to repair a ligament that is torn completely, or if there is an associated fracture.
Wrist sprains usually occur from accidents that cannot be prevented. However, wearing protective wrist guards when in-line skating will help prevent wrist sprains caused by falling while skating.
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American College of Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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Last reviewed September 2012 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.