What is a Wrist Sprain?
A wrist sprain is a term used to describe an injury to the soft tissues of the wrist. Soft tissues are muscles, the joint capsule, ligaments and tendons. This condition can range from mild to serious although this will depend on the tissue that has been injured and how badly its injured. The term sprain is used to indicate that no bones were broken during this injury. You will need to be assessed to determine how severe the injury and what treatment will be used to help you.
Generally, most wrist sprains heal quickly with no lasting side effects. However more severe injuries may involve damage to the ligaments that hold the bones of the wrist together and can affect you long term with pain and weakness.
Ligament injuries are classified into grades according to severity which include:
- Grade 1: The ligaments are stretched, not torn. These usually take 2–3 days to heal.
- Grade 2: Moderate sprains with partial tears of the ligament fibres. The ligament is partly intact and can take 2–6 weeks to heal.
- Grade 3: The ligament is completely torn. These can take 6 weeks to heal. In some cases, they require surgery.
What causes a wrist sprain?
Wrist sprains can occur when your wrist is forced too far in one direction and tissues are stretched or torn, this usually happens with your hand is outstretched, especially from a height or at speed. Wrist sprains usually occur in younger people as their bones are usually very strong and do not usually break.
Soft tissue injuries are most common in ball sports or from falling off something or they can occur if the wrist or hand is over-twisted. The force and direction of the injury will affect which soft tissues in the wrist are damaged and how badly.
You can also cause a wrist fracture through attrition where you gradually wear down a ligament until it breaks by putting strain through it repeatedly over many years.
How do I know if I have sprained my wrist?
It is vital that you keep track of your wrist if you have a fall or injury it in some way. If your pain does not go away in a few days, it is important that you seek help to have your wrist properly assessed. An X-ray may be necessary to ensure that your wrist is not broken although this will not show how serious the sprain is. If you feel a weakness in your wrist then it is important to seek help as it is much easier to fix the condition early on then it is month down the track.
How can physiotherapy help with a wrist sprain?
Your physiotherapist can help you with a wrist sprain in the following ways:
- Diagnosis – It is important that you receive the correct diagnosis so that you can receive proper treatment
- Treatment – Initial treatment involves rest which may include placing the wrist in a splint or brace or by taping it. A splint may be used full time. Swelling may also be reduced by rest, compression, elevation and ice. Your physiotherapist may also use techniques such as use heat, massage or dry needling.
- Exercises – Exercises are used to regain movement, strength and stability (proprioception) of your wrist. It is important that you complete exercises that you are given by your physiotherapist.
What can I do at home?
It is important that you listen to the advice that you are given to by your physiotherapist. You should ensure you elevate your hand to limit swelling, use compression, ice and rest, use a crepe bandage or wrist splints and finally avoid carrying objects or gripping too tightly on something.
How long will my recovery be?
Wrist sprains may take from three days to six months to get better. Although without correct treatment it may become a chronic injury causing pain and disability in years to come.
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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.