Breaking your fall, a sudden blow, or twisting in the wrong direction can sprain your wrist.
No matter how it happens, you want to heal as quickly as possible. Not being able to fully use your hand and arm can impact daily activities such as cooking, typing, brushing your teeth, and even tying your shoes. The faster you can return to full range of motion and be pain-free, the faster you can get your life back to normal.
Is it Broken or Sprained?
How do you know if your wrist is sprained? It can be difficult to tell on your own, especially if the sprain is very painful or swollen. Some of the symptoms to look for if you think you might have a sprained wrist include1:
- A popping or tearing sensation when the injury occurs
- Swelling and tenderness
- Pain while moving the wrist joint
For more severe sprains with a lot of swelling, it’s not always easy to tell if you have a sprain or a fracture. In this case, your doctor will likely x-ray the area to determine whether you have broken a bone. If the x-ray is inconclusive, you might also need an MRI or CT scan to get a definitive diagnosis.2 The good news is that most sprains can heal on their own, so if it’s not broken, just try following the steps below and wait for the healing process to run its course.3
How to Heal a Sprained Wrist
If you’re concerned that you might have a wrist fracture, always consult a physician. However, if you know you have a sprained wrist, home treatment can help move along the healing process.1,4
1. Immediately ice the injury.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to an injury.5 Cold can help slow the inflammation process, thereby reducing pain and swelling. While you won’t be able to avoid a certain amount of pain and swelling, you can help limit it with quick application of cold therapy.
2. Immediately compress the injury.
In addition to ice, immediately applying light compression to the wrist may also help minimize swelling. Use an elastic bandage to apply consistent pressure to the injured area, and adjust the amount of pressure as necessary. The compression may help prevent the formation of edema (excess fluid) around the wrist joint, which could limit mobility, contribute to discomfort, and prolong the healing process.6
3. Immediately elevate the injury.
Keeping your wrist above the level of your heart may also help limit the amount of swelling because blood and other fluids will have a harder time getting to the area. Continue elevation for several days after the injury, and remember to try to sleep with your arm on a pillow that raises your wrist above your heart.
4. Use anti-inflammatory medication.
Over-the-counter medication may help reduce pain and inflammation. Be sure to use only the recommended dose, and consider eliminating it after a couple of days so you can get a sense of whether or not you need to continue using it for pain.
5. Limit activity and immobilize the joint.
Moving a sprained wrist too much may increase irritation and slow down the healing process, so try to keep it immobilized in a brace, especially for the first several days after the injury. It’s important to rest while your body heals, so take it easy as much as possible so you may return to normal activity more quickly.
6. Continue cold therapy and active compression.
Ice and bandages work well immediately after an injury because most people have them on hand. As you continue to heal, consider renting a cold therapy device to provide consistent cold and simultaneous active compression.
How Long Does It Take to Heal a Sprained Wrist?
The length of time it takes to heal depends on how many ligaments are affected and the degree to which they are torn. According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, doctors categorize sprains by severity1:
- Mild (Grade 1) sprains include microscopic tears in the ligaments.
- Moderate (Grade 2) sprains include partial tears in the ligaments.
- Severe (Grade 3) sprains include full tears or detachment from the bone. Sometimes these sprains tear away a chip of bone.
A mild sprain may heal in just a few days, while a severe sprain could take weeks or even months to fully heal. Regardless of the severity, taking the steps listed above may help speed up your sprained wrist recovery and help you return to normal activity more quickly.
If you are recovering from a sprained wrist, ask your doctor about renting Game Ready for home use while you are healing. You just need to follow some simple setup instructions, and then let the device do all the work. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions so you can get back to pain-free activity as soon as possible.
- Leversedge FJ. Wrist Sprains. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/wrist-sprains/. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Sprains and Strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sprains-and-strains#tab-diagnosis. Published March 1, 2019.
- Wrist Sprains. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. http://www.assh.org/handcare/hand-arm-injuries/wrist-sprains. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Sprains and Strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sprains-and-strains#tab-treatment. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Joseph TN, Taylor WL. Sprains, Strains, Breaks: What's the Difference? University of Rochester Medical Center. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=1&contentid=1889. Accessed March 11, 2019.
- Rucinkski TJ, Hooker DN, Prentice WE, Shields EW, Coté-Murray DJ. The effects of intermittent compression on edema in postacute ankle sprains. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 1991;14(2):65-69. doi:10.2519/jospt.19184.108.40.206.