Sprained wrist: Care and preventive measures

One of the usual causes of wrist pain is a sprained wrist. When it comes to a wrist sprain, it usually occurs after a fall on an extended arm or tears on the wrist ligaments. This can occur during falls while playing sports such as soccer, inline skating, football, snowboarding, volleyball and baseball.

When an individual falls on extended hands, the tendons, muscles and ligaments in the wrist endure most of the impact and can end up stretched and possibly torn. In case the tissues are weakened or inflexible, the risk for injury increases.

Difference between a strain and a sprain

It is vital to understand the difference between a strain and a sprain.

  • A sprain involves injury to a ligament which connects bones to other bones. Injuries to the ligaments involve stretching or tearing of the tissue.
  • A strain involves injury to either tendon or muscle. Depending on the severity of the injury, a strain might involve overstretching of the muscle or tendon or can result to a partial or complete tear.

Indications of a sprained wrist

A sprain is quite common than a strain due to a number of ligaments supporting the bones in the wrist. A wrist sprain usually causes tenderness, pain and swelling over the wrist after a fall. It is usually tender, red and warm to the touch.

Sprained wrist

Application of ice is done with a cold pack that is wrapped with a clean cloth or towel for 15 minutes for several times throughout the day until the swelling subsides.

In some cases, there is bruising, diminished range of motion and a dull deep aching sensation in the wrist. If the individual experiences these symptoms after a fall, a doctor should be consulted for assessment to ensure that there is no fracture.

A sprained wrist is graded based on the severity:

  • Grade 1 (mild) involves over-stretching that results to micro tears on the ligaments
  • Grade 2 (moderate) involves partial tears on the ligaments and minor joint instability
  • Grade 3 (severe) involves severe or full ligament tears and significant instability of the joint

Treatment

The RICE method is the initial line of treatment for a sprained wrist which includes the following:

  • Rest involves stopping any activity and avoid using the injured wrist for 48 hours or until the pain and swelling has reduced.
  • Application of ice is done with a cold pack that is wrapped with a clean cloth or towel for 15 minutes for several times throughout the day until the swelling subsides. Do not apply an ice pack for more than 20 minutes at a time.
  • Compression is performed with an elastic compression bandage that is wrapped on the wrist to reduce the swelling. Start wrapping at the base of the fingers and stop right below the elbow. The wrap must be snug enough but be careful not to cut off the circulation to the fingers.
  • Elevation is done by keeping the affected wrist higher than the level of the heart as often as possible throughout the day and at night for the initial 2 days after the injury. This will promote drainage of fluid and minimize the swelling around the wrist.

Other treatment options include the following:

  • Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin or acetaminophen. A doctor should be consulted first before using any medication though.
  • Bracing might be recommended by the doctor to immobilize the wrist particularly while playing sports.
  • Immobilization is a treatment option if the individual has a severe case of a sprain wrist. The doctor usually recommends a cast that is applied for 2-3 weeks.
  • Rehabilitation exercises can be carried out with guidance from a physical therapist which focuses on flexibility, range of motion as well as strengthening.
  • Surgery might be considered in rare cases which involves repair of a ligament that is completely torn or if there is a bone fracture.

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