Wrist Injury

What is a wrist injury?

A wrist injury happens when the tissues of your wrist joint are damaged. Your wrist joint is made up of tendons, ligaments, nerves, and bones. Two common types of injuries that can happen to your wrist are sprains and strains. A sprain can happen when the ligaments are stretched or torn. Ligaments are bands of elastic tissue that connect and hold the bones together. A strain happens when a tendon or muscle is overused, stretched, or torn. Tendons attach your hand and arm muscles to the bones of the wrist.

What causes a wrist injury?

  • Accidents: Accidents, such as when you fall and land on your wrist, may cause damage to ligaments. Accidents may also cause the bones of your wrist to come out of their proper location. Your wrist can also be injured if a heavy object falls on it.

  • Repetitive motion: Certain activities, such as gymnastics, rowing, and tennis may cause the muscles and tendons to become irritated and inflamed. These activities can cause strains.

What increases my risk for a wrist injury?

  • Sports: Sports that involve repetitive wrist movement increase your risk for injury. Some sports, such as gymnastics, may involve activities that bend your wrist backward and increase your risk for a wrist injury.

  • Activities that put stress on your wrist: If you use crutches for a long time, you may put repeated stress on your wrist. Jobs that require repetitive or forceful work with your wrist also put extra stress on your wrist.

  • Past injuries: Bone fractures that did not heal properly or past sprain or strain injuries may weaken your wrist and increase your risk of another injury.

  • Unstable wrist: You may have been born with weak wrist ligaments or tendons that injure easily.

What are the signs and symptoms of a wrist injury?

  • Pain in your wrist when you injured it

  • Pain, weakness, or numbness in your wrist or hand

  • A feeling of something clicking, popping, or tearing inside your wrist

  • A change in the shape of your wrist, hand, or fingers

  • Trouble moving your wrist or hand

How is a wrist injury diagnosed?

Your caregiver will examine your hand, arm, and wrist to check for pain, swelling, or numbness. Your caregiver will ask you about your signs and symptoms. He will ask how and when you hurt your wrist and if you have had a wrist injury before. He may check the movement and strength of your wrist. You may also need one or more of the following:

  • X-rays: You may need x-rays of your wrist, hand, and forearm to check for broken bones. X-rays of both your injured and uninjured wrists may be taken.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your forearm, wrist, and hand. The pictures may show if you have broken a bone. You may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your forearm, wrist, and hand. An MRI may show if you have broken a bone. You may be given a dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a wrist injury treated?

Your treatment depends on the type of wrist injury and amount of tissue damage you have. You may need any of the following:

  • Wrist supports: A cast or splint may be put on your fingers, hand, and wrist to support your wrist and prevent further damage. Ask for more information about wearing casts and splints.

  • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling and pain. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and when to take it. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding and kidney problems if not taken correctly.

  • Pain medicine: You may be given a prescription medicine to decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take this medicine.

  • Steroids: You may be given steroids to decrease swelling and pain in your wrist. This may be given as a shot.

  • Arthroscopic surgery: This is a type of surgery that uses a small, flexible tube with a light and camera on the end to see inside your wrist. The tube is put into your wrist through small incisions. During this surgery, caregivers may repair tears and remove injured and loose tissues.

  • Open surgery: This surgery may be done to repair or replace a torn ligament. Your caregiver may use screws or wires to attach the bones in your wrist together.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest: You may need to rest your wrist for at least 48 hours and avoid activities that cause you pain. Ask what activities you should avoid and for how long.

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on your injured wrist for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as directed.

  • Compression: Your caregiver may suggest you wrap your wrist with an elastic bandage. This will help decrease swelling, support your wrist, and help it heal. Wear your wrist wrap as directed. Ask for instructions about how to wrap your wrist.

  • Elevation: When you sit or lie down, keep your wrist at or above the level of your heart. This may help decrease pain and swelling.

  • Physical therapy: Your caregiver may recommend that you go to physical therapy. A physical therapist shows you how to do exercises that can help strengthen your wrist and improve its range of movement. These exercises may also help decrease your pain.

What are the risks of having a wrist injury?

  • Wrist supports may press on nerves and blood vessels, cause pain, or irritate your skin. Wrist supports may also cause your muscles to shorten and limit the amount of movement you have in your wrist. Rest, wrist supports, and other nonsurgical treatments may not help your wrist heal, and you may need surgery. Even if you have arthroscopic surgery, you may need open surgery later. Surgery to repair your wrist injury may cause nerve and tissue damage or lead to an infection. As a result of surgery, your wrist may feel stiff and swollen. Even with treatment, your wrist may become weak, stiff, or difficult to move.

  • Without treatment, your symptoms, such as pain, weakness, swelling, and stiffness, may get worse. Tissues, such as nerves and muscles, may be damaged from swelling and lack of blood supply. You may have a higher risk of getting arthritis in your wrist. Your injury may prevent you from having complete movement in your hand and fingers. .

How can I prevent a wrist injury?

  • Do strengthening exercises: Your caregiver or physical therapist may suggest that you do exercises to strengthen your hand and arm muscles. Ask when you may return to your regular physical activities or sports. If you start to exercise too soon it may cause you to injure your wrist again.

  • Protect your wrists: Wrist guard splints or protective tape can help support your wrist during exercise and sports. These devices may also keep your wrist from bending too far back. Ask for more information about the type of wrist support that you should use.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever.

  • The bruising, swelling, or pain in your wrist gets worse.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek immediate care or call 911 if:

  • The skin on or near your wrist or hand feels cold, or it turns blue or white.

  • The skin on or near your wrist or hand is very tight and swollen.

  • You have new trouble moving and using your hands, fingers, or wrist.

  • Your wrist, hands, or fingers become swollen, red, numb, or they tingle.

  • Your wrist has any open wounds that are red, swollen, warm, or have pus coming from them.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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