Sprained Wrist

A sprained wrist can make it difficult to perform your daily activities and participate in sports. Luckily, rehab exercises can help you recover from a wrist sprain.

In this guide, we inform you about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of a sprained wrist. We also introduce you to some exercises that can help your wrist to heal.

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Juhi Modi Medical Writer
Medically reviewed by 

What is a wrist sprain?
What are the causes of a sprained wrist?
Symptoms of a sprained wrist
Diagnosis of a sprained wrist
Treatment for wrist sprain
Other treatment options
Recovery time
Complications of wrist sprain
When to see a doctor
Wrist sprain prevention
Don’t let your wrist sprain go untreated

We use our wrists and hands to do so much throughout the day – carrying and holding things, writing, gripping a car’s steering wheel, using a computer or phone, and a million other things. An injury to the wrist can be both painful and inconvenient. The pain can make it difficult to perform everyday activities, such as cooking, cleaning, driving, and personal hygiene. Wrist sprain symptoms can also make it difficult to use a computer for work or participate in sports and other activities.

Most of the time, a wrist sprain is caused by an accident, such as a fall. It is also common among athletes who play certain sports. Fortunately, most mild wrist sprains can be treated with physical therapy exercises. These exercises increase flexibility and strengthen the muscles around the wrist joint.

Looking for a solution to wrist sprain? Try the Injurymap exercise app now.

The Injurymap app has been developed to help you overcome injuries like a sprained wrist. This informative guide will help you understand wrist sprain and how to treat it and speed up recovery. Remember, this information is for your general knowledge and should not be used as a replacement for medical care. You should speak to a doctor immediately if your symptoms are severe and do not improve with home exercises.

What is a wrist sprain?

A wrist sprain is an injury to the ligaments in the wrist joint. It happens when a strong force is applied to the wrist ligaments. A ligament is a tough band of tissue that connects two bones in a joint.1 Ligaments provide stability to the joint and hold the bones in proper position.2 A sprained wrist happens when a ligament is stretched or torn due to excessive force.

From the outside, the wrist looks like a single joint that connects the forearm and the hand. However, internally, the wrist is a complex joint made of 15 separate bones.1 These bones are connected and form many joints. The joints are supported by several ligaments. One or more of the wrist ligaments can be injured, leading to a wrist sprain.

A wrist sprain can vary in severity from mild to severe. When the ligaments in the wrist are stretched or have tiny microscopic tears, it is called a mild (grade I) wrist sprain. More severe damage with partial tearing of the wrist ligaments is called a moderate (grade II) wrist sprain. If one or more wrist ligaments are completely torn from their attachment to the bone, it is referred to as a severe (grade III) wrist sprain.1

What are the causes of a sprained wrist?

A sprained wrist is usually the result of an accident or a fall. For this reason, wrist sprains are more frequent during icy and snowy weather conditions when people are more likely to slip and fall.1 A wrist sprain can also occur during a car accident in which the wrist is bent or twisted severely.3

Athletes are at increased risk of suffering from a sprained wrist. Injuries to the wrist and hand are fairly common among sports enthusiasts who play basketball, football, and baseball. Other sports that have been linked to a high rate of wrist sprains include boxing, weightlifting, wrestling, judo, volleyball, and ice hockey.1

Skiing deserves a special mention as a potential cause of sprained wrists. This is because when someone falls while skiing, the ski pole, which is strapped to the hand, can cause the wrist to bend abnormally.1 Sprained wrists can also occur during snowboarding, inline skating, and platform diving. Racquet sports and pole vaulting are other potential causes of wrist sprain because they involve extreme twisting movements of the wrist.

Wrist ligament injury can also be caused by repetitive stress on the wrist, for example, from playing a musical instrument or doing push-ups. However, this cause is much less common.3

Symptoms of a sprained wrist

The most common symptoms of a sprained wrist are pain and swelling. The nature of the pain can differ. It can be a dull ache that comes and goes or a constant sharp pain. Pain from a sprained wrist typically goes down within a few days. Activities such as moving your wrist, lifting something with your hand, gripping things, and twisting a doorknob may cause you pain until your wrist heals completely.3

A sprained wrist can appear swollen due to collection of fluid in the area around the injured ligament. The swelling tends to be more obvious when the wrist sprain is severe, so much so that it can change the shape of your wrist.1,3 There may be a black or blue discoloration of the skin, similar to a bruise.1

weakness (difficulty gripping objects), and warmth around the wrist. These symptoms gradually improve over time. Some people with a sprained wrist experience a popping or tearing sensation in the wrist.4

What does a wrist sprain feel like?

If you have some of the symptoms of a sprained wrist, you may be wondering if your wrist is broken or sprained. A sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments. A fracture is when one or more bones in the wrist are broken.

Most people with a sprained wrist have pain but can still perform some range of motion. A fracture, on the other hand, is likely to cause sharp pain that prevents you from moving your wrist at all.5 If your wrist pain continues for an extended period of time and you cannot move your wrist, you should seek medical attention.

Diagnosis of a sprained wrist

Doctors diagnose a wrist sprain based on how the injury occurred. For example, you may be asked to describe the position of your wrist during a fall. A coach or trainer’s eyewitness account may help make a diagnosis of a sprained wrist in a sportsperson. Also, the doctor will ask you about your history of previous wrist injuries. He or she will also perform a physical examination. During the exam, the doctor will check for wrist stability and grip strength.

Depending on your history, exam, and symptoms, yourdoctor may recommend getting an X-ray to rule out a wrist fracture. If the X-ray is normal but your symptoms do not go away, more detailed imaging with MRI or CT scan may be necessary.

Treatment for wrist sprain

Physical therapy exercises help build strength, increase flexibility, and improve the range of motion of the wrist. After the initial sharp pain from a wrist sprain has gone away, you can start doing stretching exercises. Once the stretching is painless, you can begin performing strengthening exercises for the wrist.6 You should always perform exercises within tolerable limits, i.e., any pain you feel during exercise should be bearable.

Three great exercises
  1. Wrist rotations
    10 reps

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    Wrist rotations

    • Let your arms hang.
    • Bend your wrists so your palm points upwards.
    • Then rotate your arms slowly clockwise and back to the starting position.
    • Perform 10 repetitions.
  2. Stretch between shoulder blades
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    Wrist extensions

    • Sit on a chair.
    • Merge your fingers and place them under one knee.
    • Relax your shoulders, push your leg towards the floor and feel the stretch between your shoulder blades.
    • Then do the same with the opposite leg.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions with each leg.
  3. Wrist extensions with bent arm I (medium resistance)
    8 reps x 3 sets

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    Wrist extensions with bent arm

    • Use a mediumresistance exercise band.
    • Put your hand through the exercise band and put the other end of the exercise band under the foot.
    • Make sure your elbow is slightly bent.
    • Then do the exercise with the other arm and the opposite leg.
    • Lift your wrist upward so that the exercise band is tightened and then let your hand move back to the starting position.
    • Perform 3 sets of 8 repetitions with each arm.

Other treatment options

RICE Treatment: Mild wrist sprains can be treated with rest, ice, compression, and elevation of the injured area.

Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can help relieve the pain and swelling associated with a sprained wrist.

Immobilization: Moderate wrist sprains, especially in competitive athletes, may need to be immobilized (movement restricted) for 7-10 days. The doctor may recommend a splint or light cast.Surgery: Arthroscopic (keyhole) surgery may sometimes be needed to repair a completely torn ligament.1

Recovery time

Most wrist sprains heal with time. If you have suffered a stretch or partial tear of a wrist ligament, self-care and strengthening exercises can help with recovery. You will be able to return to pain-free daily activities and playing sports relatively quickly. However, severe wrist sprains with completely torn ligaments may require surgical repair and a longer recovery period.1,3

How long does it take to recover from a wrist sprain?

A mild wrist sprain improves quickly, usually within 2-3 days. More severe sprains can take several weeks to heal. Grade III wrist sprains can sometimes take 3-6 months for complete recovery.1,7

Complications of wrist sprain

When a wrist ligament is completely torn, a piece of bone may break off with the ligament. This is called an avulsion fracture. It needs professional medical care. Surgery may be required to repair the torn ligament.8

It is recommended that you allow your wrist sprain to heal before resuming your regular activities, especially sports. If you don’t give your wrist time to heal, it can lead to further injury, stiffness, and chronic (long-lasting) pain.8 If you return to playing sports before the wrist sprain has healed, there is a risk it can happen again. Over time, an untreated wrist sprain can lead to ongoing pain, instability, and weakness. Ultimately, painful arthritis may develop in the joints, leading to stiffness and limited movement of the wrist.9

When to see a doctor

Fortunately, the long-term prospects for wrist sprain are excellent in most people. A sprained wrist does not usually cause any long-lasting symptoms and heals well with physical therapy exercises. However, severe sprains should be checked by a medical professional. Call your doctor immediately if:1,9

  • You have severe pain despite using over-the-counter pain medication.
  • You have a fever of 100.4 Fahrenheit (38 degrees Centigrade) or higher.
  • Your wrist is severely swollen or deformed.
  • You are unable to move your wrist in any direction.
  • Your hand feels numb or has turned gray or blue.
  • Your symptoms are not improving 2-3 days after the injury.

Wrist sprain prevention

Wrist sprains in non-athletes often occur due to falls on slippery surfaces. You should be careful when walking in icy or wet conditions. Sprained wrists also frequently occur during sports. It is a good idea to wear the recommended protective equipment, such as wrist guards, splints, or protective tape, during activities that can lead to excessive bending or twisting of the wrist.4 Skiers should use ski poles with finger grooves and low-profile grips. Holding the ski poles without the straps can also help prevent wrist sprains because the poles can be quickly dropped during a fall.1

Don’t let your wrist sprain go untreated

A wrist sprain is a fairly common injury among people who play sports. It can also occur in non-athletes due to a fall on an outstretched hand. Oftentimes, people brush it off by saying “it’s just a wrist sprain.” However, without the proper treatment, a sprained wrist can result in longstanding pain, stiffness, and weakness. Thankfully, most minor wrist sprains heal fairly quickly with home remedies and exercise. Wrist exercises can strengthen the muscles surrounding the joint and keep it flexible. This can help you recover from a wrist sprain and prevent future injuries.

The Injurymap app demonstrates a range of exercises for every part of the body, including the wrist. These exercises can be conveniently practiced at home with little to no equipment. If you have symptoms of a wrist sprain, you should begin with stretching exercises and gradually shift your focus to strengthening exercises. This will speed up your recovery from a sprained wrist and also reduce your risk of getting injured again.

The Injurymap app makes it easy to perform the exercises with the correct posture and technique. Each exercise is demonstrated in the app for you to follow along. Don’t let a sprained wrist prevent you from doing your normal activities and playing the sports you love. Start using the Injurymap app today and begin healing from your wrist sprain.

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  1. https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/wrist-sprain-a-to-z 

  2. https://www.britannica.com/science/ligament 

  3. https://www.sports-health.com/sports-injuries/hand-and-wrist-injuries/what-wrist-sprain 

  4. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/wrist-sprains 

  5. https://share.upmc.com/2018/06/fractured-sprained-wrist-treatment/  

  6. https://www.summitmedicalgroup.com/library/pediatric_health/sma_wrist_sprain_exercises/ 

  7. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/wrist-sprain#1 

  8. https://www.healthgrades.com/right-care/bones-joints-and-muscles/sprained-wrist 

  9. https://www.fairview.org/patient-education/90645