A sprain is a common type of injury that involves a stretching or tearing of ligaments, the strong bands of tissue that connect bones to one another. A wrist sprain is often caused by falling onto an outstretched hand or by bending the wrist backward. Although anyone can sprain a wrist, athletes, including gymnasts, baseball and basketball players, skiers, skaters and skateboarders, are particularly susceptible. Protective splints or braces can offer some protection from injury for those at greatest risk.
Grades of a Wrist Sprain
Wrist sprains are graded on a scale of one to three based on their severity and the extent of damage to the ligaments.
A grade 1 wrist sprain is mild, involving only a stretching of the ligaments involved. In grade 1 sprains, no tearing of ligaments takes place.
Grade 2 sprains are of moderate severity and involve a partial tearing of the ligaments. Patients with a Grade 2 sprain may suffer some dysfunction.
A grade 3 sprain is a significant injury in which the ligament is completely torn. Grade 3 sprains require immediate medical treatment and/or surgical repair. If, as the ligament tears away from the bone, it takes a chip of bone with it, the injury is known as an avulsion fracture.
Treatment may vary widely depending on the grade of the sprain. Some mild sprains may not require any medical intervention, but may heal on their own with home remedies.
Symptoms of a Wrist Sprain
Depending on exact location and severity, the symptoms of a sprained wrist vary. Common symptoms include the following:
- Sensation of “popping” or “tearing” at time of injury
- Bruising or discoloration
- Warmth under the skin
- Limited mobility
To diagnose a wrist sprain, imaging tests may be necessary.
Diagnosis of a Wrist Sprain
The location and intensity of the pain the patient experiences often helps the doctor diagnose a wrist sprain. By checking for specific points of tenderness, areas of swelling, and movements that make the pain more severe, the doctor may be able to pinpoint the affected ligament. In order to rule out a fracture, X-rays are usually taken. To diagnose the extent of the injury, an MRI scan may also be administered.
Treatment of a Wrist Sprain
Many mild wrist sprains can be treated with rest, ice, compression and elevation (RICE). Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also help. For more serious wrist sprains, immobilization with a splint or cast may be prescribed. To repair a ligament that is completely torn (a Grade 3 sprain), surgery may be required. When a wrist sprain requires surgery, and sometimes even when it does not, physical rehabilitation may be necessary to restore ease of function, range of motion, and strength to the wrist.