A sprain is an injury to the ligaments around a joint. Ligaments are strong, flexible fibers that hold bones together.
When you sprain your wrist, you have pulled or torn one or more of the ligaments in your wrist joint. This can happen from landing on your hand wrong when you fall down.
More about Your Injury
Wrist sprains can be mild to severe. They are ranked by how severe the ligament is pulled or torn away from the bone.
Grade 1 -- Ligaments are stretched too far, but not torn. This is a mild injury.
Grade 2 -- Ligaments are partially torn. This is a moderate injury and may require splinting or casting to stabilize the joint.
Grade 3 -- Ligaments are completely torn. This is a severe injury and usually requires medical or surgical care.
Chronic wrist sprains from poorly treated ligament injuries in the past can lead to weakening of the bones and ligaments in the wrist. This can lead to arthritis if not recognized.
What to Expect
Symptoms such as pain, swelling, bruising and loss of strength or stability are common with mild (grade 1) to moderate (grade 2) wrist sprains.
In mild injuries, stiffness is normal once the ligament begins to heal, but this can improve with some light stretching.
Severe (grade 3) wrist sprains may need to be looked at by a hand surgeon. They may need to take pictures called x-Rays of your wrist to get a better look. The more severe injuries may require surgery to fix.
Chronic sprains should be treated with splinting, pain medicine and anti-inflammatory medicine. Chronic sprains may need steroid injections and possible surgery.
Follow these steps for the first few days or weeks after your injury:
Rest -- halt any physical activity that causes pain. You may need a splint. You can find wrist splints at your local drugstore.
Ice your wrist for about 20 minutes 2 - 3 times a day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin.
Make sure to rest and keep your wrist immobile as much as you can. Use a compression wrap or splint to keep swelling down and take pain medicine if necessary.
For pain, you can use ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn), or acetaminophen (Tylenol). You can buy these pain medicines at the store.
Talk with your health care provider before using these medicines if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or have had stomach ulcers or internal bleeding in the past.
Do not take more than the amount recommended on the bottle or by your health care provider.
Here are a few exercises you can follow once your wrist beings to feel better. To build strength, try the ball drill:
With your palm facing up, place a rubber ball in your hand and grab it with your fingers.
Keep your hand and wrist still while you gently squeeze the ball.
Squeeze for about 30 seconds, then release.
Repeat this 20 times, twice a day.
To increase flexibility and movement follow these steps:
First, warm up your wrist by using a heating pad or warm washcloth for about 10 minutes.
Once your wrist is warm, hold your hand out flat and grab your fingers with the un-injured hand. Begin to bring the fingers back and gently bend the wrist back just before it begins to feel uncomfortable. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Take a minute to let your wrist relax, and then repeat the stretch 5 times.
Now bend your wrist in the opposite direction, stretching downward and hold for 30 seconds. Relax your wrist for a minute and then repeat the stretch 5 times.
If the wrist has increased discomfort after the exercises, ice the wrist for 20 minutes after the exercises. Do the exercises twice a day.
Follow up with your doctor 1 - 2 weeks after your injury. Based on your injury, your doctor may want to see you more than one time.
For chronic wrist sprains, you may want to talk to your doctor about what activity is causing you to re-injure your wrist and what you can do to prevent any further injury.
When to Call the Doctor
Call the doctor if you have:
Sudden numbness or tingling
Sudden increase in pain or swelling
Injury does not seem to be healing as expected
Ingari JV. Wrist and hand. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr., Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2009:chap 20.
C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.