Definition | Causes | Risk Factors | Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | Prevention

Definition

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.

Wrist Sprain

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Causes

The most common causes for wrist sprains are falling on an outstretched hand and repetitive motion.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of getting a wrist sprain include:

  • Playing sports
  • Job- or activity-related repetitive motion of the wrist
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor balance
  • Reduced flexibility and strength in muscles and ligaments
  • Loose joints
  • Not wearing wrist guards during activities, such as in-line skating

Symptoms

A wrist sprain may cause:

  • 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 deformity, swelling, or if you are unable to move your wrist or hand.

Diagnosis

You will be asked 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.

Imaging tests may include:

Wrist sprains are graded according to their severity:

  • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissue
  • Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament tissue
  • Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament tissue

Treatment

Treatment includes:

Acute Care

Rest

Your wrist will need time to heal. Avoid activities that cause pain or put extra stress on your wrist.

Cold

Ice may help decrease swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.

Pain Relief Medications

Your doctor may advise:

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen
  • Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
  • Prescription pain relievers

Note: Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.

Compression

Compression can help prevent more swelling. This can be done using an elastic compression bandage around the wrist.

Elevation

Elevation can also help keep swelling down. Elevate the arm higher than the heart as much as possible. A couple of days of elevation might be recommended for severe strains.

Recovery

Support may be needed to help protect, support, and keep your wrist in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include:

  • A brace—A brace may need to be worn to keep the wrist still as it heals.
  • A cast—A cast may be needed for 2-3 weeks in cases of severe sprain.
  • Rehabilitation exercises—Exercises to restore flexibility, range of motion, and strength in the wrist may be advised by a doctor or physical therapist.
  • 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.

Prevention

Wrist sprains may not always be preventable. There are steps you can take to reduce your chance of getting a wrist sprain. These include:

  • Wearing protective equipment and using proper technique while playing sports
  • Keep wrists strong with regular exercises to absorb the energy of sudden physical stress