Sprained Wrist

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Woman holding her wrist due to a sprain or other injury

A sprained wrist is an injury caused by damage (overstretching, tearing or complete rupture) to the ligaments of the wrist. Symptoms vary depending on the extent of the injury and the location of the sprain. Sudden pain in the wrist will be felt at the time of injury and in more severe wrist sprains a tearing or popping feeling may be felt. Pain will be felt when moving the wrist and a tender spot may be felt where the ligament is damaged. Mild swelling could be visible and bruising might develop in more severe injuries.  This wrist injury usually occurs as a traumatic event instead of an overuse injury.

Degrees Of Wrist Sprain

As with other types of sprain (e.g. a sprained ankle) a sprain of the wrist can be classified as grade 1, 2 or 3 depending on the severity of the injury.

A type 1 sprain will involve mild overstretching of the wrist ligaments, causing some pain but relatively little loss of function.

A type 2 sprain will involve significant overstretching or a partial tear. There will be pain, a “loose” feeling in the joint and some (but not total) loss of function.

In a type 3 injury, the ligaments will have been completely ruptured. The patient will experience pain, severe looseness and more or less complete loss of function of the wrist.


This is a relatively common injury which usually occurs after a fall onto an outstretched hand. However, this type of injury can also result from a blow to the wrist or from extreme pressure to it. Twisting the wrist can also cause a sprain. Wrist sprains are a common injury in many sports ranging from basketball to baseball to skateboarding.

Wrist Sprain Symptoms

Symptoms of a sprain usually include pain and swelling around the wrist. The patient will also usually experience tenderness in the wrist as well as a “warm to the touch” feeling. Other signs of a potential wrist sprain include:

  • A popping or tearing feeling in the wrist at the time of the injury;
  • Bruising  around the wrist;
  • A feeling of weakness in the wrist with a reduction in the ability to use it in everyday actions (e.g. gripping objects).


Conservative Treatments

In most cases (grade 1 or 2 sprains), treatment of a wrist sprain will require just giving the wrist some time to rest and recover naturally. The patient can normally help the processing along by:

  • Refraining from normal wrist activity for a few days. A wrist brace will help take the pressure off the wrist and allow it to heal more quickly;
  • Applying ice or a cold compress to the wrist every few hours;
  • Wearing a tensor bandage on the wrist to apply compression to combat pain and  any inflammation that may be present.
  • Elevating the wrist above heart level to improve circulation and promote faster healing;
  • Using an over the counter pain killer like aspirin for further pain reduction.

Care should be taken not to wear the wrist brace for too long. If this is done, the muscles of the wrist may atrophy (weaken) due to underuse, leading to a another possible injury.


If the wrist sprain is of grade 3 severity, surgery may be necessary to repair the ruptured ligaments.


Especially for grade 2 or 3 type wrist sprains, it is advisable to see a physiotherapist who can design a series of exercises to strengthen the wrist. This will be an important step towards restoring normal strength and functionality in the joint and keeping the risk of re-injury to a minimum.

Time To Recovery

Obviously, the time needed to recover fully from a wrist sprain depends on the severity of the injury. It can actually take anywhere between 2 and 10 weeks for a grade 1 or 2 sprain. A grade 3 sprain can take significantly longer – perhaps as much as 3-4 months – to heal fully.

Whatever the degree of severity, The patient needs to be patient and listen to the advice of doctors and physiotherapists. At a minimum, he or she should wait until there is no pain in the wrist and until it feels just as strong as the other healthy wrist.

If the patient attempts to return to normal use of the wrist too soon, the result may be a permanently damaged wrist with repeated sprains in the future.

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