What Is A Wrist Sprain?
A sprain in the wrist is an injury to its ligaments, the bands of fibrous tissue that connect bones to one another inside a joint. The wrist contains many joints that link 15 separate bones. The ligaments that connect these bones can be torn by a twisting, bending or sudden impact injury.
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.
Symptoms of a Wrist Sprain
In a mild wrist sprain, your wrist may be slightly swollen and tender, and you probably will feel some mild pain when you move it.
In more severe sprains, swelling can change the shape of your wrist, and you may have some bruising (a black-and-blue skin discoloration). Also, you’ll probably feel significant pain when you try to move your wrist, or when your health care professional moves your wrist while examining it.
Diagnosis of a Wrist Sprain
After reviewing your symptoms, your doctor will ask you to describe how you injured your wrist. Include as many details as you can. Did you fall or twist the wrist? What position was your wrist in when you injured it? If you are an athlete, your doctor may want an eyewitness account of your injury from a trainer or coach. Your doctor also will review your medical history, especially any history of previous wrist, hand or forearm injuries.
Expected Duration of a Wrist Sprain
In milder wrist sprains, symptoms usually improve within two to three days. More severe sprains can take a number of weeks or even months to heal completely.
Wrist Sprain Treatment
For milder wrist sprains, initial treatment follows the RICE rule:
- Rest the joint
- Ice the injured area to reduce swelling
- Compress the swelling with an elastic bandage
- Elevate the injured area
Your doctor also may suggest a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others), to relieve pain and ease swelling.
For moderate wrist sprains, especially in professional or competitive athletes, the wrist may be immobilized in a splint or light cast for seven to 10 days. If you have a significant wrist injury, you will need physical therapy as soon as symptoms allow. Athletes usually can return to competition once symptoms subside, although it may be advisable to protect the injured wrist with a support splint. When a severe wrist sprain causes significant instability in the wrist, surgery may be required.
When To Call a Professional
Call your doctor immediately whenever you have symptoms of a severely sprained wrist, especially if your wrist is deformed or severely swollen, or if pain prevents you from moving your wrist normally in any direction. For milder sprains, call your doctor if your wrist symptoms do not improve within two to three days after your injury.
Wrist Sprain Prognosis
Since most wrist sprains heal with time, the long-term outlook is usually excellent. This is especially true for people who do not routinely play sports that twist or bend the wrist. Among athletes with severe sprains or patients who do not heal properly, patients may benefit from surgery.