A sprained wrist is a very common injury for athletes and people in general. When a person falls, their most common instinct is to put out their hand to break the fall. When the hand hits the ground, their entire body weight is forced onto the wrist. The force of impact and the weight causes the wrist to bend back toward the forearm, resulting in a sprain. A sprained wrist can range from mild to severe, and is graded on a 1-3 level. A grade 1 sprain causes minor damage to the ligament, a grade 2 sprain causes some loss of function with more severe ligament damage, and a grade 3 sprain results in a complete ligament tear and total loss of function. Symptoms include pain, warmth and tenderness in the injured area, swelling, bruising, and feeling a popping in the wrist.
A sprained wrist is an injury to the ligaments in the wrist. The wrist has numerous joints that connect the 15 separate bones in the wrist. An extreme impact, bend, or twist can tear the ligaments that link these bones, as it forces the wrist suddenly into a position that is past its normal range of motion. A wrist sprain is usually caused when a person falls and lands on their outstretched arm. Sprains to the hand and wrist account for almost 10% of all sports injuries in athletes, and are especially common in athletes who play basketball, football, or baseball. Sprained wrists are also common among skiers. When a skier falls with the ski poles still attached to their hands, it usually results in a sprained wrist. Because falls are a frequent cause of wrist sprains, they also happen frequently among skateboarders and snowboarders.
The best way to treat mild wrist sprains is by following the RICE protocol. Be sure to rest the wrist for at least 48 hours. This means stopping any exercising or activity that could further damage the wrist. It is important to ice the injury to reduce swelling. Ice the area for about 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Make sure to wrap the ice pack in a thin towel or cloth to prevent causing any skin damage like frostbite. You should also use an elastic bandage to compress the area and reduce swelling. If you are unsure about how to properly apply the bandage, ask a trainer or doctor to do it for you or show you how. Lastly, make sure the wrist is elevated above the level of your heart. If the pain is severe, try taking an over-the-counter medication. If the swelling and pain does not go away after 2 days, you need to see a doctor. Moderate sprains may require a wrist splint to immobilize the area for over a week, while severe sprains may need surgery to fix the ligament if it is fully torn.
If you apply the RICE treatment protocol, a mild wrist sprain should be healed in only a few days. More severe sprains, however, may require a few weeks. If surgery is needed, it may take months to completely recover. For mild wrist sprains, you should be able to jump back into your activity or sport once you are healed. More moderate wrist sprains may require rehab. The most popular rehab exercises aim to regain strength, range of motion, and flexibility. You should take part in exercises that work and stretch the muscles of the forearm and wrist, as well as the triceps and biceps. To prevent wrist sprains, you may want to wear protective tape or wrist guard splints to help support the wrist. Both of these can prevent the wrist from bending backwards during a fall. For skiers, try to drop the ski poles while falling to prevent wrist sprains. Wrist sprains are not isolated to just athletes, however. Everyone should be careful when walking or running in slippery or wet conditions to avoid a fall, which is the most popular cause of a sprained wrist. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has more information about wrist sprains.