Ligaments are strong bands of tissue that hold bones to each other. A wrist sprain is stretching or tearing of the ligaments of the wrist.
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Trauma causes a wrist sprain. Falling on an outstretched hand with your wrist stretched causes this to happen. It is the most common cause. There are other ways it can happen.
Playing sports may raise your risk.
A wrist sprain may cause:
It can be hard to tell a wrist sprain from a fracture or dislocation of one of the small wrist bones. See your doctor if your pain does not get better.
You will be asked about your symptoms and how you hurt your wrist. An exam of your wrist will be done.
Pictures of your wrist may be taken. This can be done with:
Wrist sprains are graded from 1 to 3:
Your wrist will need time to heal. Do not do things that cause pain or put extra stress on your wrist.
Ice may help reduce swelling and pain in the first few days after the injury.
Compression can reduce swelling. Use an elastic bandage around the wrist.
Elevation can also help reduce swelling. Raise the arm higher than the heart. A couple of days of elevation might be advised for severe strains.
Your doctor may advise over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen.
Note: Aspirin is not advised for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
Support may be needed to protect, support, and keep the wrist in line while it heals. This may include:
Wrist sprains may not always be preventable. Wear proper padding and safety gear when you take part in sports or activities.
American College of Sports Medicine
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Abraham MK, Scott S. The emergent evaluation and treatment of hand and wrist injuries. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2010 Nov;28(4):789-809.
Derry S, Moore RA, Gaskell H, McIntyre M, Wiffen PJ. Topical NSAIDs for acute musculoskeletal pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.2015;(6):CD007402.
Overview of Sprains and Other Soft-Tissue Injuries. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/sprains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries/overview-of-sprains-and-other-soft-tissue-injuries Updated August 2017. Accessed May 30, 2018.
Parmelee-Peters K, Eathorne SW. The wrist: common injuries and management. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. 2006 March 32(1).
Sprains and strains. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases—National Institutes of Health website. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/sprains-and-strains. Updated January 30, 2015. Accessed June 11, 2018.
Wrist sprains. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at:
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Updated April 2018. Accessed June 11, 2018.
Last reviewed May 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Laura Lei-Rivera, PT, DPT, GCS
Last Updated: 6/22/2015