A sprained wrist refers to an injury that occurs when the ligaments of the wrist are stretched or torn, typically due to sudden or forceful movements of the hand or wrist. It is a common musculoskeletal injury that can cause pain, swelling, limited range of motion, and difficulty in performing everyday activities that require wrist movement. Sprained wrists often happen due to falls, sports-related accidents, or activities that put excessive stress on the wrist joint. The injury is prevalent among athletes and in occupational settings.
Healthcare professionals often treat sprained wrists conservatively with medicines and rehabilitation in most cases. However, surgical correction is the treatment of choice if the injury results in a complete tear of wrist ligaments.
A wrist sprain1May, D. D., Jr, & Varacallo, M. (2022). Wrist Sprain. StatPearls Publishing. commonly happens when the ligaments that connect the small bones of the palm to the long bones of the hand are injured. Furthermore, these ligaments support the wrist and enable the person to perform fine hand movements.
Once the injury develops, the affected person experiences joint instability and painful wrist movements. However, the sprained wrist can be mild or severe depending upon the damage that has occurred to the wrist ligaments.
Grades of Sprained Wrist
Sprained wrist falls into three grades2American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2018, April). Wrist Sprains: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/wrist-sprains/ depending on the severity of the injury that, includes:
Wrist Sprain Grade I
Refers to mild injury in which the wrist ligaments are overstretched but not torn.
Wrist Sprain Grade II
Refers to moderate injury in which the wrist ligaments are partially torn and may present with loss of functions.
Wrist Sprain Grade III
Refers to severe injury in which the ligaments are completely torn, or the ligaments are detached from the bone. This type of wrist sprain gets treated by immediate surgical corrections.
Also, studies suggest that physiotherapy sessions help to treat grade I and II wrist sprains completely.
Causes of Sprained Wrist?
Any activity resulting in forceful twisting or wrist bending causes this liability. The mechanism of injury can vary from person to person. However, falling on an outstretched arm or hand is the commonest way of getting a sprained wrist. Consequently, this motion forces the hand to bend suddenly, leading to overstretching of the ligaments between the wrist joints.
Additionally, sprained wrist also happens after the repetitive movements or overuse of wrist joints often associated with many sports activities.
However, people playing these sports are more likely to develop wrist sprain:
Besides, wrist sprains can occur to any individual regardless of the nature of the occupation they’re associated with.
Symptoms of Sprained Wrist
A wrist sprain is a painful condition. Besides pain, an individual with a wrist sprain also experiences these sprained wrist symptoms:
- Swelling around the wrist joint
- Bruising over the wrist
- Tenderness while touching the wrist area
- Popping or tearing sound inside the wrist
- Warmness around the wrist joint
- Reduced range of motion of the wrist
- Weakness of the hand
Even a wrist with minimal swelling might have had torn ligament that needs surgical corrections to reduce long-term complications.
Therefore seeking proper medical attention is the way forward to managing the symptoms of a sprained wrist. How to Get
Diagnosis of Sprained Wrist
A healthcare professional will ask the affected individual about their medical history, such as previous injuries to the wrist, how the current injury occurred, and the nature of symptoms to diagnose sprained sprain.
Additionally, a doctor will physically examine an affected individual by carefully assessing the wrist movement and palpating where it hurts. Furthermore, tenderness around the wrist joint also represents the underlying fractures.
Furthermore, individuals with sprained wrists need to run these tests:
- X-Ray: To assess any abnormality related to bony structures of the wrist joint
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): To evaluate the muscle and ligaments connected to the wrist joint. MRI should be considered as a part of an early investigation, especially when the wrist pain does not settle within the first couple of weeks.3Bergh TH, Lindau T, Bernardshaw SV, Behzadi M, Soldal LA, Steen K, Brudvik C. A new definition of wrist sprain necessary after findings in a prospective MRI study. Injury. 2012 Oct;43(10):1732-42. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2012.06.028. Epub 2012 Jul 21. PMID: 22819266.
- Arthrogram: A medical care provider often injects the dye into the affected area to perform an arthrogram.
The healthcare provider proceeds with treating sprained wrist soon after its clinical diagnosis.
How To Get Sprained Wrist Treated?
A healthcare professional advises patients with wrist sprains to rest and take a break from their athletic activities for a few weeks to months, depending on their condition. Although sprained wrist mostly heals on its own.
However, these treatment protocols4Morgan, W. J., & Slowman, L. S. (2001). Acute hand and wrist injuries in athletes: evaluation and management. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 9(6), 389–400. doi:10.5435/00124635-200111000-00004 help the affected individuals speed up their recovery period:
To manage the sprained wrist in its initial phases, healthcare professionals advise RICE protocol to reduce its symptoms. Moreover, it contains four steps which include:
Give the injured wrist rest for 48 hours minimum.
Place an icepack over the affected wrist for 20 to 30 minutes to lessen swelling and pain. Repeat this process after every three to four hours for three days until the pain subsides.
Take a bandage and wrap it around the sprained wrist for compression purposes.
Raise the wrist above heart level or over the pillow to reduce swelling.
Over-the-counter, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help to reduce pain and swelling associated with a sprained wrist. If the pain persists after consuming painkillers for two days, consult a medical professional.
Use a Sprained Wrist Splint:
A wrist splint or brace is another way to deal with sprained wrists non-surgically. It keeps the injured structures immobile and offers rest to the area. However, sprained wrist brace shouldn’t be worn for more than one week. Excessive use of splint may provoke joint stiffness and muscle weakness in the future.
Sprained Wrist Surgery:
Individuals with Grade III wrist sprains must undergo ligament reconstruction surgery5Avery, D. M., 3rd, Rodner, C. M., & Edgar, C. M. (2016). Sports-related wrist and hand injuries: a review. Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, 11(1), 99. doi:10.1186/s13018-016-0432-8. Besides, this surgery uses a tendon graft to repair the completely torn wrist ligament. After surgery, individuals must be enrolled in a rehabilitation program to strengthen their wrist muscles and regain the lost range of motion.
Moreover, the sprained wrist recovery usually lasts 8 to 12 weeks post-surgery. But an affected person might need 6 to 12 months to heal fully. However, the time required for the recovery depends on the severity of a wrist sprain.
What are the Best Exercises for Sprained Wrist?
Following are some of the best exercises for wrist sprains6Costa, F., Janela, D., Molinos, M., Moulder, R. G., Lains, J., Francisco, G. E., … Correia, F. D. (2022). Digital rehabilitation for hand and wrist pain: a single-arm prospective longitudinal cohort study. Pain Reports (Baltimore, Md.), 7(5), e1026. doi:10.1097/PR9.0000000000001026:
Wrist Extension Stretch
Use these steps to do wrist extension stretch.
- Straighten the elbow and supinate the forearm with the palm facing upwards.
- With the help of a sound hand, bend your wrist with the fingers facing downwards.
- Maintain the wrist in this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat the procedure three more times.
Wrist Range of Motion Exercises
These exercises increase wrist joint movements.
- Bend the hand upwards with fingers pointing at the roof.
- Bend the hand downwards with the finger pointing at the floor.
- Straighten the elbow and move the forearm with the palm facing upwards
- Straighten the elbow and move the forearm with the palm facing downwards.
- Repeat all the movements thrice.
The gripping exercise strengthens the wrist joint. To perform this:
- Take a soft rubber ball and place it in the palm of the affected wrist.
- Now squeeze the ball for 5 seconds.
- Repeat this exercise 10 times.
Additionally, individuals with sprained wrists continue doing all the exercises above thrice daily to get better results.
The Bottom Line
A sprained wrist is a common injury that heals independently and causes no long-term complications. Although, if this pain and swelling stay for over 48 hours, proper medical consultation is the way to move forward. However, besides taking painkiller pills, using a wrist splint and performing wrist stretching and strengthening exercises often cure the condition.
- 1May, D. D., Jr, & Varacallo, M. (2022). Wrist Sprain. StatPearls Publishing.
- 2American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (2018, April). Wrist Sprains: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment. OrthoInfo. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases–conditions/wrist-sprains/
- 3Bergh TH, Lindau T, Bernardshaw SV, Behzadi M, Soldal LA, Steen K, Brudvik C. A new definition of wrist sprain necessary after findings in a prospective MRI study. Injury. 2012 Oct;43(10):1732-42. doi: 10.1016/j.injury.2012.06.028. Epub 2012 Jul 21. PMID: 22819266.
- 4Morgan, W. J., & Slowman, L. S. (2001). Acute hand and wrist injuries in athletes: evaluation and management. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 9(6), 389–400. doi:10.5435/00124635-200111000-00004
- 5Avery, D. M., 3rd, Rodner, C. M., & Edgar, C. M. (2016). Sports-related wrist and hand injuries: a review. Journal of Orthopaedic Surgery and Research, 11(1), 99. doi:10.1186/s13018-016-0432-8
- 6Costa, F., Janela, D., Molinos, M., Moulder, R. G., Lains, J., Francisco, G. E., … Correia, F. D. (2022). Digital rehabilitation for hand and wrist pain: a single-arm prospective longitudinal cohort study. Pain Reports (Baltimore, Md.), 7(5), e1026. doi:10.1097/PR9.0000000000001026