In many parts of the country, it is still slip-and-fall season, which means a higher risk of wrist sprains. Even though the season is almost over, it’s still possible to sprain a wrist while participating in sports, either by falling or colliding with another player in a way that causes the wrist to bend too far backwards.
A wrist sprain is an injury to the ligaments that connect the wrist and hand bones. These ligaments might become stretched with a minor sprain or completely torn with a more severe injury. Minor sprains can often be treated at home by immobilizing the joint and managing the pain. More severe sprains could require surgery to repair the torn connective tissues.
Symptoms of a Sprained Wrist
If you have sustained a wrist injury by falling or bending the joint during athletic activity, look for signs of a sprain, such as:
- Pain when the injury occurred
- Swelling around the wrist
- Pain when moving the wrist
- Bruising and tenderness
- A popping or tearing sensation with movement
If you’re not sure whether your wrist is sprained or fractured, consult with a physician to get an X-ray and a complete diagnosis. Even a sprain could require medical intervention to prevent long-term issues, so unless you’re certain that it’s just a minor sprain, it’s a good idea to schedule a doctor visit.
Pain Treatment for a Sprained Wrist
Minor wrist sprains will heal themselves over time, but they do come with pain as the body goes through its natural inflammatory response. You can treat pain and swelling with RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) treatment or with more advanced solutions like a cryotherapy system.
Cold and compression help naturally reduce pain by temporarily numbing nerve endings and reducing swelling. Applying ice packs is effective, but a cryotherapy system increases the effectiveness of cold by maintaining a consistent temperature and providing active compression to enable cold to penetrate deeper. Active compression also pumps away the excess fluid that contributes to swelling, so you get multiple benefits in one treatment system. If you want to go beyond the ice pack to treat pain at home, talk to a physical therapist about renting a cold therapy system.
Physical Therapy Tips for a Sprained Wrist
Once you start to regain range of motion in your wrist, the acute pain has subsided, and the initial swelling has gone down, you can start to do physical therapy exercises to increase flexibility and maintain strength in the surrounding muscles. Consider some of these exercises as you recover:
With your palm facing up, gently bend your wrist toward your body with your fingertips facing the sky until you feel a slight stretch and hold for a few seconds.
In the same position with your palm facing up, gently bend your wrist backward, trying to point your fingertips toward the floor until you feel a slight stretch.
With your palm facing the centerline of your body (as if you are about to shake hands with somebody), gently move the wrist up and down to strengthen the tissues on the sides of the wrist.
Using the same position as the wrist flexion exercise, use your healthy hand to gently pull your injured hand toward your body to deepen the stretch. Do the same in the opposite direction in the wrist extension position.
Hold a light weight (one or two pounds) or a can of food in your hand in the wrist flexion position (palm facing up) and bend at the wrist to lift the weight. Slowly lower and lift the weight for several repetitions. Reverse this exercise by flipping the hand so the palm faces down and bend the wrist to lift the weight away from the floor.
Squeeze and release a soft rubber ball or rolled-up towel to strengthen the muscles surrounding the wrist joint.
As these exercises become easier, add more repetitions and sets over time until you have regained full range of motion and the same level of strength you had prior to the injury.
Always consult with a physical therapist or doctor if you’re not sure how much or what types of activities to do while you are healing from a sprained wrist.
Download our free Complete Guide to Upper Extremity Injury and Surgery Recovery to learn more about how to recover from a sprained wrist as quickly and safely as possible.