What is a wrist sprain?

A wrist sprain is a common injury to one of the ligaments in the wrist. Sprains range from mild, in which the ligament is stretched but not torn; to moderate, in which the ligament is partially torn; to severe, in which the ligament is completely torn from the bone.

Even if your symptoms are mild, it’s important to consult a physician to ensure you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment. If you wait, your condition could worsen and require surgical intervention. 

What causes a wrist sprain?

Wrist sprains typically result when the wrist is forcefully bent or twisted beyond its normal range of motion. The most common cause is a fall on an outstretched hand. The injury frequently occurs during athletic activity, but can also result from trauma such as a car accident.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of a wrist sprain typically include pain, swelling and instability in the wrist, tenderness and warmth around the injury, bruising or discoloration of the skin, and a popping or tearing sound in the wrist

If your symptoms persist more than one day, it’s important that a physician evaluate your injury.

How is a wrist sprain diagnosed?

In addition to a patient history and physical exam, your doctor may order an X-ray, CT scan or MRI to confirm the diagnosis and rule out more serious problems, such as a fracture.

What is the treatment?

Mild wrist sprains usually respond well to non-surgical treatment including rest, immobilization in a splint, anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. More severe sprains, in which the ligament is partially or completely torn, may require surgery to reconnect the ligament to the bone.

Surgical options include:

  • Arthroscopy. In this minimally invasive procedure, the surgeon makes several small incisions around the wrist joint and inserts a miniature camera (called an arthroscope) to see inside. Tiny instruments are used to repair the ligament injury. This technique allows a full view of the wrist without having to cut through nerves or muscles. Patients experience less pain and blood loss, fewer complications and a faster recovery.
  • Open surgery. If the wrist sprain is severe and the ligaments completely torn, the surgeon may need to repair it with metal pins, screws or other fixation devices. This more extensive surgery requires an open incision. Patients typically wear a splint or cast for four to six weeks afterwards.

Following either type of surgery, rehabilitation with a Certified Hand Therapist is recommended to strengthen and stabilize the muscles around the wrist joint, and improve hand dexterity. Specific recovery time varies based on the severity of the sprain and your overall health.