A wrist sprain is a common and frustrating ailment that many of us have encountered at some point in our lives. Essentially when you sprain your wrist this means that a ligament or tendon has been torn to some extent as a result of being suddenly stretched beyond normal limits. While a strain then is a pulled muscle, you can consider a sprain to be a ‘pulled tendon’. When you experience a sudden pain in your wrist as a result of overextending it, or suddenly twisting it, then it is safe to say that this is a sprained wrist seeing as the wrist is surrounded by the fibrous tissue of ligaments and tendons and seeing as there is no real muscle surrounding it to get pulled.
A sprained wrist occurs then often during sports as a result of moving the wrist too violently too suddenly, but can also occur in daily life. If you should fall and put your wrist out to stop yourself for instance, then this can cause a sudden impact that sprains the wrist.
If you sprain your wrist then it is going to cause a range of uncomfortable symptoms and these can include:
- Swelling of the wrist
- Pain during the injury
- Pain when moving the hand/wrist
- A feeling of tearing at the time of injury
- Heat around the wrist
Even if the wrist sprain seems not to have many highly pronounced symptoms it may still be an important ligament that has been badly sprained so it is important to make sure that you treat it well. It is important to have the wrist sprain checked out as it may in fact be a fracture rather than a sprain. This could cause the wrist to heal in the wrong position, or could lead to infection – so to avoid either of these fates it is important to get it looked at. Bear in mind also that the same impact or movement that damaged your wrist may have caused other injuries to the arm as well.
The doctor will be ascertain whether you may have a wrist sprain by looking at the wrist and reviewing the symptoms. They will examine the arm and the sprain and will check for the areas of tenderness in an attempt to rule out a possible broken bone. They may also use imaging tests which include x-ray or MRI/CT scan.
After the injury it is important to treat the individual immediately and keep them comfortably. You should make sure that the individual is resting and sitting down and treat shock with a warm cup of sugary tea.
From here it is then important to rest the wrist (you can use a sling to this end), to apply ice (but not directly to the skin and not for more than 20 minutes at a time), use compression (such as a bandage or compression tube) and then to elevate the arm. These actions will all help to reduce the swelling and improve the discomfort while minimizing further damage.
The doctor will recommend these treatments also, although they might suggest further treatment such as the use of a splint. A splint on the arm can help to keep the wrist aligned and take any weight off of it. This will encourage the ligaments to heal in the correct position. In even more severe cases the doctor may recommend surgical treatment in order to help repair the torn ligament. This can involve reconnecting the ligaments to the bone or reconnecting two broken halves with stitching and this will then hold the parts together while they heal.
As your wrist begins to heal you may also be given some exercises to perform at home which will help to further strengthen the wrist while improving flexibility and thus mobility. Otherwise the wrist may feel tight and you may not regain the full degrees of movement you previously had. You might also get referred to a physiotherapist for this purpose or you may choose to see an osteopath or chiropractor. For a short while after you may also wish to use a sports wrist support which will help to give your ligaments some help in supporting the joint – though eventually it will be important to return to normal usage. Full recovery can take several weeks to several months of course depending on the severity of the injury initially.
Usually a sprained wrist is a result of a fall so prevention is a matter often of avoiding slipping or tripping by being cautious when walking on slippery or uneven surfaces. When participating in sports, then wearing a wrist support can also help to prevent a sprain. In general it’s also important to learn alternative ways to break your fall. In martial arts and free running practitioners use something called ‘break falling’ in order to land and prevent an impact without putting their hand out.