Wrist Sprain

Prevent overuse of the wrist joint and resulting sprains by taking rest breaks and varying your work and leisure activities.

Strong bands of tissue called ligaments connect the eight bones of the wrist joint, which serves an important role in the mobility and function of the hand. When the wrist joint is forced beyond its normal range of movement, one or more of these ligaments may be overstretched or torn causing a sprain. Sprains are classified according to the extent of the injury:

  • Mild (Grade I) sprains involve a tear of some of the fibers in a ligament. The wrist is still functional and healing is usually rapid.
  • Moderate (Grade II) sprains occur when part of the ligament is torn from a bone. There is some loss of function and healing will last longer than with the mild sprain.
  • Severe (Grade III) sprains result when the ligament is torn in two, or the ligament separates from the bone. Wrist function is significantly compromised and surgery may be required to repair and/or reconstruct the damaged ligament.

Wrist sprains are commonly caused by accidents, such as a blow to the wrist or falling on an outstretched hand, often as a result of contact sports. Other contributing factors include repeated and prolonged stress on the joint.

You will experience pain and swelling in the wrist and movement will be limited and uncomfortable.

Your doctor will examine the wrist and discuss the history of the injury with you. X-rays may be needed to rule out broken bones and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) or other X-ray studies may be used to identify the damaged ligaments.

Mild sprains usually heal well with conservative treatments. You may find ice packs applied three to four times per day (10 to 15 minutes at a time) useful to control swelling and pain along with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Your doctor may recommend a splint to support the joint and limit movement. Physical or occupational therapy is often helpful in regaining normal use of the wrist.

Moderate and severe sprains may require surgery to repair the ligaments and restore stability to the joint. A period of rest and rehabilitation will follow the operation.

If treatment is begun early, wrist sprains typically heal with excellent results. Mild wrist sprains mend in approximately two to four weeks, while more serious sprains require about four to right weeks. Your recovery is contingent upon your age, overall health, the extent of the sprain and how well you follow your doctor's instructions.

Following this injury, it is important to avoid activities that can lead to re-injury. Prevent overuse by taking rest breaks during daily activities and vary your work and leisure tasks to allow the soft tissues time to rest and repair. Athletes should stretch and strengthen the wrist as part of their training program.

The following complications are possible:

  • Wrist sprains can occur with broken bones in the elbow, forearm and hand.
  • The joint may remain unstable due to overstretched ligaments.
  • Arthritis may develop as a result of serious sprains left untreated.