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Wrist Sprain

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A wrist sprain is a common injury for all sorts of athletes. All it takes is a momentary loss of balance. As you slip, you automatically stick your hand out to break your fall. But once your hand hits the ground, the force of impact bends it back toward your forearm. This can stretch the ligaments that connect the wrist and hand bones a little too far. The result is tiny tears or -- even worse -- a complete break to the ligament.

woman putting on wrist support

While falls cause of a lot of wrist sprains, you can also get them by:
 

  • Being hit in the wrist.
  • Exerting extreme pressure on the wrist or twisting it

Wrist sprains are common in:

  • Basketball players
  • Baseball players
  • Gymnasts
  • Divers
  • Skiers, especially when they fall while still holding a pole
  • Skaters
  • Skateboarders
  • Inline skaters

Wrist sprains also can happen to anyone who takes a fall or gets hit on the wrist.

What Does a Wrist Sprain Feel Like?

Symptoms of a wrist sprain are:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness and warmth around the injury
  • Feeling a popping or tearing in the wrist
  • Bruising

To diagnose a wrist sprain, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. You might also need an:

  • X-ray
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Arthrogram, a special type of X-ray or MRI done after a dye is injected into the wrist
  • Arthroscopy, a minimally invasive surgery in which a tiny camera is inserted into the wrist

Sprains are usually divided into three grades:

  • Grade I: Pain with minor damage to the ligament
  • Grade II: Pain, more severe ligament damage, a feeling of looseness to the joint, and some loss of function
  • Grade III: Pain, a completely torn ligament, severe looseness of the joint, and loss of function

What's the Treatment for a Wrist Sprain?

While they can bench you for a while, the good news is that minor-to-moderate wrist sprains should heal on their own. They just need a little time. To speed the healing, you can:

  • Rest your wrist for at least 48 hours.
  • Ice your wrist to reduce pain and swelling. Do it for 20-30 minutes every three to four hours for two to three days, or until the pain is gone.
  • Compress the wrist with a bandage.
  • Elevate your wrist above your heart, on a pillow or the back of a chair. as often as you can.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil, Aleve, or Motrin, will help with pain and swelling. However, these drugs can have side effects, like an increased risk of bleeding and ulcers. They should be used only occasionally, unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
  • Use a cast or splint to keep your wrist immobile. This should only be for a short time, until you see the doctor. Then follow the doctor’s advice about whether or not to continue using a splint. Using a splint for too long can result in more stiffness and muscle weakness in some cases.
  • Practice stretching and strengthening exercises if your doctor recommends them.

More severe Grade III wrist sprains, in which the ligament is snapped, may require surgery to repair.

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