A sprained wrist is a rather common injury, especially among athletes. Sprained wrists often occur when someone falls. When you slip, you lose your balance. The body's instinct is to break the fall, and so you often put your hands out immediately to save yourself from hitting the ground. But when your body weight lands on your wrist, it often pushes your wrist back so far that the ligaments in the wrist are torn. In some cases the tears are minor, but in others the tear is significant. How serious the tears are determines how serious the sprain is.
What is a Sprained Wrist?
A sprained wrist means that the ligaments inside the wrist have become damaged thanks to some sort of injury. Though falls are the most likely reason, the injury can also happen if you have a traumatic hit to the wrist. Imagine being hit with a racquet during a game of couples tennis - that could lead to a sprain.
- Symptoms of a Sprained Wrist. The first very clear symptom of a sprained wrist is pain. Sometimes the pain is slight, but often it can be sudden and excruciating. Other symptoms include swelling of the wrist, a great deal of tenderness around it, warmth of the surrounding skin, a popping sound when you try to move your wrist, and significant bruising around the wrist and lower forearm. If you have these symptoms, your doctor will need to run tests to determine how bad the sprain is.
- Grades of Sprains. Some wrist sprains are worse than others. To determine what treatment you need, a doctor will categorize the sprain into three different grades. Grade I is a sprain with minor damage to the ligament. Grade II is a sprain that causes more significant pain, a feeling of looseness in the joint, and some loss of function - this is indicative of a serious problem. Grade III is the most serious, meaning significant pain, a complete tear of the ligament, looseness in the wrist and extensive loss of function.
How to Treat a Sprained Wrist
In many cases, home treatment can help alleviate the pain of a wrist sprain. However, a Grade III sprain is a much more serious issue and can require a trip to the emergency room, including surgery if necessary. If you suspect that you have a serious sprain, visit the doctor right away to make sure of what kind of sprain you are dealing with.
If your wrist sprain turns out to be a Grade I or Grade II, your doctor might have some instructions for you to follow in order to hasten healing. You can also try these home remedies to alleviate pain and swelling, as well as help you get to better health faster.
1. Take It Easy
Resting the joint is by far the best thing you can do for any sprain. You should do this no matter how small the sprain might seem, as further activity could turn a small sprain into a more serious one. Don't use the joint for at least 48 hours.
2. Keep It Cold
Ice can help alleviate the pain and bring down swelling. Every three to four hours, wrap an ice pack in a soft cloth and place it on your wrist for 20-30 minutes. Do this for a few days.
3. Wrap It Up
Wrapping the wrist with a large bandage can keep it from moving too much, provide support and alleviate pain. The pressure of the bandage can make a painful sprain much more comfortable. Just be sure not to attach it too tightly - you should always be able to move your fingers and never cut off blood flow to your hand.
4. Lift It Up
Keeping your wrist elevated above the level of your heart can help the blood drain away from it, and that can help with bruising and pain. Keep it elevated as often as you can.
5. Medicate the Pain
Don't suffer through the pain! Use anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen to help cut through the pain and relieve the swelling. You can take these over the counter medications as often as every six hours - check the label to be sure.
6. Keep It Steady and Still
If it will be some time before you can see the doctor, keep your wrist immobile with a cast or sling. You can find a cast that attaches with Velcro at any pharmacy store. Keeping the wrist immobile for a short period of time can help prevent any other damage from occurring.
7. Work It Out
Once you are feeling better, you need to work to strengthen the joint. Start doing gentle stretching and strength exercises to bring back the full function. Speak with your doctor about which exercises are okay for you to do.
When Will the Wrist Be Fully Healed?
Waiting for a sprained wrist to get better can test your patience, but it is very important to let the wrist fully heal before you try to get back into the game. If you ask too much of your wrist too soon, you could wind up with even worse damage - or permanent problems. Avoid this by making absolutely certain your wrist is ready for action before you push yourself too much.
Many sprains heal within a few weeks, but some might take months, especially if you have to have surgery on the joint. However, there are a few good rules of thumb to keep in mind when you are contemplating using your wrist again. If you feel no pain at all, even when you grip or lift something, you can assume that the sprain is probably healed. If your wrist and forearm feel as strong as ever and can match the uninjured wrist in strength, that's another excellent sign that the pain of a sprained wrist is finally behind you.