Wrist sprain is often associated with traumatic events but can also stem from chronic issues such as repetitive stress or from the normal aging process.
What is wrist sprain?
Wrist sprain is often associated with traumatic events such as falls or sporting accidents. However, wrist sprain can also stem from chronic issues such as repetitive stress and the normal aging process. The wrists are so necessary and used so frequently that sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate simple aches and pains from a wrist sprain that requires prompt medical attention.
Treatments may include practicing better form when using the wrists, protecting the wrists themselves, limiting dangers in your home or environment, applying ice or heat, and taking calcium supplements and over-the-counter painkillers. Physical therapy, surgery, or a prescription for anticonvulsants may also be recommended.
You should see your primary care doctor tomorrow. He or she may request imaging to make sure that there is no further damage to the bones of the wrist.
Wrist sprain symptoms
Symptoms of wrist pain that result from sprain include:
- Persistent numbness
- Weakness or decreased strength
- Pain in the fingers or hand
Wrist sprain causes
Many factors can lead to wrist sprain. As a result, reaching a diagnosis can be difficult, but an accurate diagnosis is essential for proper treatment and care.
The wrist is a joint with multiple components. Made up of bones, muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments and tendons, the wrist is susceptible to sprain in numerous places. To better understand wrist anatomy, use this image for a visual representation.
Any condition that causes stress, overuse, or damage to these components can result in wrist pain and sprain, and be divided into traumatic, positional, and inflammation-related causes.
Direct trauma to the wrist in events such as motor vehicle accidents can definitely cause significant trauma to the wrist, as well as the other causes listed below.
- Falls: Falling on an outstretched hand puts direct trauma on the wrist. Bones can easily shift and break, nerves and blood vessels can be pinched and severed, and muscles and ligaments can be torn.
- Sports injuries: Similar to falls, wrist sprain is a common occurrence in contact sports, such as football and hockey, and in sports that may involve falls, such as skiing, volleyball or cross-country biking.
Positions such as typing and knitting that put direct pressure on the nerves in the wrist can cause chronic stress and sprain. These activities may seem benign, but when performed often, they can lead to wrist sprain.
Processes that cause swelling and inflammation of the components of the wrist, especially the blood vessels and nerves, can cause compression and pressure that results in wrist pain and sprain.
- Arthritis: Arthritis is a general term for multiple conditions that cause painful inflammation and stiffness of the bones and joints. Arthritic processes can affect many parts of the wrist and cause irritation and injury that often leads to sprain.
- Cysts: Cysts are sacs that can be filled with fluid, air, or other material that can form in any part of the body. Cysts often occur in the wrist and cause pain that can lead to sprain from constant inflammation that results in injury.
Treatment options and prevention for wrist sprain
Treatments of wrist sprain depend on the severity of injury, but can usually be resolved quite well either at home or with help from a medical professional.
If your symptoms are a result of mal-positioning, try these self-care tips and suggestions to gain relief:
- Practice ergonomics: If you spend much of your day typing at a keyboard or doing activities that put pressure on the wrist, make time for regular breaks. Keep your wrists in a relaxed, neutral position when you type and consider using foam supports and keyboards that decrease tension on your wrist.
- Use protective gear during sports activities: Using wrist guards during activities such as snowboarding, rollerblading, gymnastics and tennis can help prevent sprain.
- Hazard-proof the home: Make changes in your home that can help prevent falls. Try changes such as replacing slippery rugs and mats, installing handrails in the bathroom or shower, and illuminating spaces in order to prevent accidental trips.
- Apply ice then heat: Putting ice on your wrist will help reduce pain and relax sore or tight muscles. Limit application of ice or heat to 20 minutes at a time. You can do this every couple of hours for relief.
- Build up your bones: Take calcium supplements to strengthen your bones and prevent fractures.
Treatments from a medical team
Depending on your diagnosis, your physician may also suggest:
- Physical therapy or rehabilitation: Your physician may prescribe stretching exercises or a physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore range of motion, strength and stability to your wrist. If you have a broken bone, you may need a cast or splint to help hold the fractured pieces together during the healing process. If no bones are broken, you still may need to wear a splint to protect the parts of the wrist as they heal.
- Non-inflammatory medications: Your physician may prescribe this type of medication to combat arthritic processes that are causing wrist pain and sprain.
- Anticonvulsants (anti-seizure medication): Do not be alarmed, your wrist pain is most likely not the result of seizures. Many anticonvulsant medications are also used to combat nerve pain and your physician may prescribe medications such as Gabapentin or Carbamazepine.
- Surgery: If at-home remedies and medication options from your physician do not provide relief, your physician may refer you to a surgeon for other options.
When to seek further consultation for wrist sprain
See your physician promptly if you have symptoms aligned with those of wrist sprain (bruising, shooting pain, numbness or tingling).
Questions your doctor may ask to determine wrist sprain
- How long has your wrist stiffness been going on?
- Is your wrist stiffness constant or come-and-go?
- Is your wrist stiffness getting better or worse?
- Is your wrist pain constant or come-and-go?
- How severe is your wrist pain?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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- Arthritis and Diseases That Affect the Hand and Wrist. Arthritis Foundation. Arthritis Foundation Link
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Wrist pain. The Mayo Clinic. Published Oct. 26, 2017. Mayo Clinic Link