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Wrist Sprain

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

What is a wrist sprain?

A wrist sprain happens when one or more ligaments in your wrist stretch or tear. Ligaments are tough tissues that connect bones and keep them in place, and support your joints.

What are the signs and symptoms of a wrist sprain?

  • Swelling and tenderness
  • Pain and stiffness
  • Bruising or changes in skin color
  • Popping sound in your wrist when you move it

How is a wrist sprain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how you injured your wrist. The provider will examine your wrist and hand and ask about your symptoms. You may need x-rays, an MRI, or a CT scan of your wrist. You may be given contrast liquid to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is a wrist sprain treated?

Treatment depends on how severe your sprain is. You may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and fever. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • A splint or cast helps support your wrist and prevent more damage.
  • Surgery may be needed if you have a severe sprain. Arthroscopy may be done to examine the inside of your wrist joint and repair ligament damage. Arthroscopy uses a scope that is inserted through a small incision. You may need open surgery to reconnect torn ligaments to the bone.
  • Physical therapy may be recommended. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Rest your wrist for at least 48 hours. Avoid activities that cause pain.
  • Ice your wrist for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you put it on your wrist. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.
  • Compress your wrist with an elastic bandage. This will help decrease swelling, support your wrist, and help it heal. Wear your wrist wrap as directed. The elastic bandage should be snug but not tight.
    How to Wrap an Elastic Bandage
  • Elevate your wrist above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your wrist on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain or swelling.
  • Your injured wrist is red or has red streaks spreading from the injured area.
  • You have new trouble moving your hands, fingers, or wrist.
  • Your wrist, hand, or fingers feel cold or numb.
  • Your fingernails turn blue or gray.

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms get worse.
  • Your sprain does not get better within 2 weeks.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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 healthcare providers 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.

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