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Sprained Wrist Injury

by Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT August 19, 2020 0 Comments

It doesn’t always take a serious accident to cause a sprained wrist injury. While falls are one of the most common causes of a sprained wrist among older adults, normal activities around the house or even sleeping wrong can lead to wrist pain. If you’re feeling unsure about whether you need to see a doctor or self-treat at home, keep reading to learn how to most effectively manage your condition.

What is a Sprained Wrist?

Knowing how to effectively treat a sprained wrist begins with understanding all the moving parts that make our hands, wrist, and forearms function properly. The wrist is made of eight different bones, which are held together by a network of ligaments and other soft tissue. A sprain is defined as an injury to one or more of these ligaments and can range from mild to severe.

Is My Wrist Sprained?

With all of the bones, ligaments, tendons and other connective tissue located in the small space of the wrist, it can feel impossible to diagnose a sprained wrist.  In fact, oftentimes one injury of the wrist coincides with other types of connective tissue damage, such as occurs with bruising or arthritis. Ultimately, the severity of your symptoms will determine whether you should seek medical advice. Regardless of whether it’s a sprain or something else, moderate to severe symptoms warrant a visit to your doctor’s office.

Sprained Wrist Grades

The severity of symptoms can range significantly, from a slight inconvenience to long-lasting ailments that can cause total immobility. A wrist sprain can be defined by one of three grades.

Grade 1:

A mildly sprained wrist with no swelling and minor pain. No significant damage to the ligament is present.

Grade 2:

Increased pain and a sense of wrist instability secondary to a partially torn ligament.

Grade 3:

A completely torn ligament resulting in severe pain and instability.

A doctor will be able to identify the level of your injury after completing a thorough assessment.

Common Causes of a Sprained Wrist

The most common cause of a sprained wrist is falling on an outstretched hand. When our natural instinct to break our fall kicks in, our arms and hands are often the first line of defense against gravity. A sudden blow to your palm, or excessive pressure on the upper palm, will potentially sprain the soft tissues in the fingers, hand, wrist or forearm.

Wrist sprains can also be caused by any number of other common household activities or sport. These include:

  • Sleeping awkwardly on the hand and wrist
  • Cooking, particularly chopping and other repetitive motions
  • Lifting a heavy object
  • Improper form with exercise
  • Excessive gripping (i.e. a steering wheel)
  • Repetitions with sports such as golf

Sprained Wrist Symptoms

Understanding your wrist sprain and moving forward with treatment comes down to a detailed understanding of all the associated symptoms. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are also associated with other wrist injuries as well so you may need medical advice if your symptoms are severe or limiting your daily activities.

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Localized tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Instability of the wrist
  • A popping sound at the time of injury
  • What Does a Sprained Wrist Look Like?

    A sprained wrist can be a tough injury to self-diagnose. Again, if symptoms are mild then you can start with home treatment and see how it goes. If symptoms do not improve within a week or two you should then seek medical care. On the other hand, if symptoms are moderate, severe, or limiting your normal activities it is best to seek medical care regardless of whether it's a wrist sprain or fracture.

  • Sprained Wrist vs. Broken Wrist

    Many patients suffering from wrist pain start by asking, “Is my wrist broken or sprained?” The two conditions are easily confused. While an X-ray is necessary to know for sure, one reliable sign that can help you know how to tell if a wrist is broken or sprained is the pain itself. Broken bones tend to come with a constant ache, whereas sprains tend to feel worse when the joint is being moved.

  • Sprained Wrists and Arthritis

    What does a sprained wrist feel like, as opposed to arthritis? The aches and pains can be similar, so tell your physician if you think long-term discomfort is contributing to your sprained wrist symptoms. The biggest difference is that a sprained wrist is usually an acute sudden injury whereas arthritis onset is typically gradual.

How Long Does a Sprained Wrist take to Heal?

How long does a sprained wrist last? That is the first question patients ask after diagnosis. Most sprained wrist injuries resolve in two to three weeks. Severe sprains that involve a torn ligament could take weeks or months. Plus, if surgery is required to restore stability, you can expect at least 3 months of recovery.

A personalized recovery program will optimize the healing process so that you can return to your normal life. This typically involves an initial bout of rest and swelling management before starting gentle exercises for the joint to expedite the recovery process. There are also a number of anti-inflammatory foods that will help, such as lean protein, leafy vegetables, ginger, and foods high in vitamin C.

If your sprained wrist pain is getting worse with time, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Your sprain may have been misdiagnosed, or you may be receiving improper treatment.

Recovering From a Sprained Wrist

Understanding how to care for a sprained wrist ligament is the first and most important step toward a complete recovery. As long as you understand the cause of your injury, seeking the appropriate treatment should be straightforward. Now that you know how to heal a sprained wrist, soon you will be cooking, golfing, driving, and hugging those close to you again.




Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT
Jaydee Vykoukal, PT, DPT

JayDee Vykoukal is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, owner of the healthy habit platform Health Means Wealth, and freelance medical writer. She loves traveling and spending time with her family in nature. Her passion is helping others continue to participate in the activities they love through education and proper exercise.

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