Sprained Wrist

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A young woman holding her wrist due to a sprain or other injury.

A sprained wrist is an injury that damages the ligaments of the wrist and causes them to be either overstretched or partially or completely torn. The most frequent cause of this injury is falling onto an outstretched hand, something that occurs frequently in many sports from soccer to skateboarding. The symptoms of a sprained wrist include pain, swelling and a lack of control, or “looseness” of the joint. Treatment of the injury in most cases will include resting the wrist to allow the sprained ligaments to recover, as well as icing and elevating the injury.  You can obtain additional support for an injured wrist by wearing a wrist brace.

Degrees Of Sprain

Like many other types of sprain, this is usually a traumatic injury and not one from overuse. The severity of the injury can vary widely from one case to another. In general, there are 3 possible degrees of severity of a wrist sprain:

  • With a grade 1 sprain, the ligaments are stretched but there is no tearing. You will experience pain and possibly some loss of function, but not much.
  • If you have experienced a grade 2 sprain, there will be partial tearing and you will experience greater pain and loss of function than with a grade 1 sprain;
  • With a grade 3 sprain, one or more ligaments will be completely torn, either in the middle or at the point at which it attaches to the bone. Pain will be significantly greater even than with a grade 2 sprain and you will likely experience complete loss of function of the wrist. This is a serious injury that usually requires surgery to correct the problem. In some cases in which the ligament is detached from the bone, it may even take a small piece of bone with. Doctors call this an avulsion facture.

What Are The Causes Of A Wrist Sprain?

As explained above, the most frequent cause of  this injury is falling onto an outstretched wrist. Athough this most frequently occurs during sports activity, it can also happen while performing non sports related activities such as walking on an icy pavement.

In some cases, wrist sprains can be the result of twisting the wrist or receiving a blow to it. However, these events are much less frequent than the “falling onto an outstretched hand” scenario.


Symptoms of a wrist sprain depend on the severity of the injury as defined above. However, in almost all cases, you will experience pain and swelling around the wrist. There will also be a tender feeling  and the area will be “warm to the touch”.

In addition, you may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Looseness of the wrist as well as a lack of strength in the joint and difficulty performing actions like gripping objects firmly;
  • You may hear or sense a tearing or popping sound at the time you experience the injury.


It is important to appreciate that you should not try to evaluate the seriousness of your injury from the symptoms you are experiencing. For example, don’t assume that you have a grade 1 sprain because you are only experiencing pain and swelling. If not treated properly, a wrist sprain can leave you with permanent wrist problems  like chronic pain, stiffness and even arthritis. Even without these problems, you will likely have a higher risk of experiencing additional wrist sprains in the future.

Consequently, if you experience any of the symptoms above, you should visit your doctor for a diagnosis and an evaluation of the seriousness of the injury.


If your doctor confirms that you have experienced a wrist sprain, the course of treatment will usually depend on the severity of the injury. If the sprain is of grade 1 or 2 in severity, the most likely choice will be conservative (non surgical) treatment. For a grade 3 injury, your doctor will most likely recommend surgery to correct the problem.

Conservative Treatment Of A Wrist Sprain

To treat a grade 1 or 2 sprain, your doctor will most likely recommend that you:

  • Rest your wrist by refraining from performing demanding activities with it. A wrist support brace can help to take pressure off your wrist muscles and ligaments and allow the sprain to heal faster. Depending on the specific task, you may wish to consider switching to using the other wrist instead. If your sprain is a mild one, the overstretched ligaments will likely recover in a few weeks without any further intervention;
  • Ice your wrist or apply a cold compress to it (for periods of 20-20 minutes at a time, every 3-4 hours). This will help to reduce the pain and inflammation (if any) you are experiencing;
  • Use a compression bandage or tensor bandage over your injured wrist;
  • Keep your wrist elevated above the level of your heart to maintain good blood circulation through the injured area.
  • If you need additional pain or inflammation relief, your doctor may prescribe non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs for that purpose.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery will be required for a grade 3 wrist sprain injury or for a grade 1 or 2 sprain that does not respond to conservative treatment. The purpose of the surgery may be to reattach the ruptured ligament to the bone. Alternatively, doctors can reconstruct a severely damaged ligament with a tendon grafted from elsewhere in your body.


Especially if you have undergone surgery, you should consider an exercise program for your injured wrist. The aim of the program will be to return your wrist to its original strength and range of motion. Without an appropriate rehabilitation program, your wrist could be permanently damaged.

Recovery Time

It is important to set realistic recovery time expectations. A mild wrist sprain may require as little as 3-4 weeks for a full recovery. However, a more severe injury such as a grade 2 sprain may require as many as 10 weeks. If you are unfortunate enough to experience a grade 3 sprain, you may need 3-4 months or more before you can return to regular activities.

Remember that returning to regular activities before your wrist is ready can result in a permanent injury. So  be patient and follow the advice of your doctors where your recovery time is concerned.

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