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Hand and Wrist Sprains

What is a Wrist Sprain?

A wrist sprain occurs when the ligaments that support the wrist stretch beyond their normal limits or tear. Ligaments are strong, fibrous tissues that keep your bones in proper position and stabilize the joint. Your wrist can suddenly twist or bend, such as by falling onto an outstretched hand. Wrist sprains are common injuries and can range from mild to severe, depending on how much damage there is to the ligaments.

Grades of Wrist Sprains

Sprains are graded, depending on the degree of injury to the ligaments. 

  • Grade 1 sprain (mild): The ligaments are overstretched, but there are no tears.
  • Grade 2 sprain (moderate): The ligaments are partially torn. You may lose some mobility and need a splint or brace to help with recovery.
  • Grade 3 sprain (severe): The ligament is completely torn or separated from the bone. You may need surgery for this type of injury. If the ligament tears away from the bone, it may take a small chip of bone with it – this is called an avulsion fracture. 

Causes of Hand and Wrist Sprains

In general, a hand or wrist sprain is caused by physical trauma to the area. This might happen during everyday activities but frequently occurs during outdoor sports and recreation, such as basketball, gymnastics, mountain biking, or skateboarding. You may experience a wrist sprain if it: 

  • Suddenly twists
  • Moves in an abnormal position
  • Bends backward
  • Sustains heavy impact

Hand and wrist sprains can happen to anyone, not just athletes. You can sprain your wrist during accidents like slipping on ice or tripping over an object. 

Symptoms of Hand and Wrist Sprains

A sprained hand or wrist is very painful, especially when you move it. Other common symptoms may include: 

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness to touch
  • A feeling of popping or tearing inside the wrist
  • A feeling of warmth around the wrist

Hand and Wrist Sprain Diagnosis 

After discussing your medical history and general health, your doctor will ask about any previous injuries to your hand or wrist. Then, your doctor will carefully examine your wrist, hand, and arm to determine where it hurts and to check how it moves. Tenderness in certain areas may be indicative of a broken bone. Your doctor may order imaging tests, such as an X-ray, to help confirm the diagnosis. Possible tests include:

  • X-ray. Although an X-ray will not show the ligaments themselves, it can suggest a ligament injury if the wrist bones do not line up correctly. An X-ray can also help your doctor rule out a broken bone.
  • MRI or CT scan. If more information is needed, an MRI or CT scan may also be ordered. These tests create images of your ligaments and tendons so your doctor can check the severity of your injury. 

Treatment for Hand and Wrist Sprains

Treatment for a hand and wrist sprain depends on the severity of the injury. At home, you can treat a mild wrist sprain using the RICE method:

  • Rest. Avoid using your wrist for 48 hours. Refrain from activities that involve your wrist, like writing with a pen. 
  • Ice. Apply ice immediately after the injury to keep the swelling down and then use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, two or three times each day. Do not apply ice directly to the skin. 
  • Compression. Wrap a compression bandage around your wrist to minimize swelling.
  • Elevation. Rest with your wrist above your heart as often as possible. 

Anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, can also help to reduce pain and swelling. If these symptoms persist for more than 48 hours, contact your doctor immediately. 

Nonsurgical Treatment

If you have a moderate sprain, you may need a splint or brace to immobilize your wrist as it heals. Because immobilization may cause some stiffness in your wrist, your doctor may recommend stretching exercises to help you regain full range of motion. 


Severe sprains may require surgery to repair the fully torn ligament. Surgery for a sprained wrist involves reconnecting the ligament to the bone or using a tendon graft to reconstruct the injured ligament. Surgery is followed by a period of rehabilitation that includes exercises to strengthen your wrist. The ligament usually heals in 8 to 12 weeks, but it can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months for a full recovery. The length of your recovery and surgical outcomes depend on the severity of your sprain. 

Hand and Wrist Care at Raleigh Orthopaedic

Raleigh Orthopaedic Clinic provides comprehensive care for all manner of hand and wrist injuries and conditions, including hand and wrist sprains. Our hand surgeons work closely with our on-site Certified Hand Therapists to ensure you get the best treatment possible. For more information or to schedule an appointment in Wake County, contact us today.

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