DefinitionA 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.
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CausesThe most common causes for wrist sprains are falling on an outstretched hand and repetitive motion.
Risk FactorsFactors 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
SymptomsA wrist sprain may cause:
- Pain, tenderness, and swelling around the wrist
- Redness, warmth, or bruising around the wrist
- Limited ability to move the wrist
DiagnosisYour 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.Imaging tests may include:
- Grade 1—Some stretching with micro-tearing of ligament tissue.
- Grade 2—Partial tearing of ligament tissue.
- Grade 3—Complete tearing of ligament tissue.
Acute CareRestYour wrist will need time to heal. Avoid activities that cause pain or put extra stress on your wrist.ColdApply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes several times a day after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.Pain Relief MedicationsYour doctor may recommend:
- Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
- Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
- Prescription pain relievers
RecoverySupport may be needed to help protect, support, and keep your wrist in line while it heals. Supportive steps may include:
- A brace—You may need to wear a brace to keep your wrist still as it heals. If you play sports, you may need to wear a wrist brace, or tape your wrist when you return to your sport after you are healed. Do not return to activities or sports until your doctor gives you permission to do so.
- A 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 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 .
PreventionWrist 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
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
American College of Sports Medicine
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
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- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 02/2014
- Update Date: 09/30/2013