Wrist sprains are common, whether they occur at work, during a workout, or in the course of your daily life, like banging your hand against something hard or bracing yourself when you fall. You have about 20 ligaments in your wrist, which support you when you do all sorts of activities, ranging from typing to lifting a heavy barbell to picking up a pan while cooking dinner. Your wrists are durable and can usually handle a decent amount of stress that is just a part of everyday life, but sometimes you’ll do something to strain them.
“When patients see me for a wrist sprain, they usually know exactly how it happened — their wrist got pulled the wrong way when they were lifting weights, or they were out jogging and they fell and landed hard on their hand,” says Heather Broach, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health.
The good news: Most of the time, wrist sprains can be treated at home with remedies that include stretches and exercises. Read on to find out what to do if you sprain your wrist.
What Is a Sprained Wrist?
Wrist sprains happen when the ligaments, connective tissue similar to tendons that attach bone to bone at joints, in your wrist are stretched or torn. There are three main grades of sprain:
Grade 1, or mild sprain. Your ligaments are stretched, but not torn.
Grade 2, or moderate sprain. Your ligaments are partially torn.
Grade 3, or severe sprain. A ligament is completely torn or is pulled off the bone.
If you have a mild sprain, you should be able to do regular activities, albeit with some discomfort, notes Dr. Broach. A moderate sprain, however, may mean you’ve got some loss of function. A severe sprain requires a doctor’s care.
Along with pain, wrist sprain symptoms can include:
Tenderness to touch
Trouble moving your wrist (it may feel like something is popping or tearing when you do)
A feeling of warmth in the area
If you suspect something more serious, it’s a good idea to get a wrist injury checked out by a physical therapist or doctor, advises Dr. Broach, especially if it’s due to a fall. “We want to rule out any potential fracture of the hand and wrist bones,” she explains. A PT can do some wrist function tests, and, if there are any concerns about a fracture, refer you to a doctor who can order imaging tests like X-rays. If the pain is so bad that you can’t put any weight on your wrist, you should see a doctor right away.
What Can Cause a Wrist Sprain?
“Most of the time, people end up seeing me for a wrist sprain that happened when they fell onto their outstretched hand,” says Dr. Broach. Here are other common reasons you may experience a wrist sprain:
Sports. Whether you’re shooting hoops or playing tennis, for example, an awkward movement or overexertion could cause you to tweak your wrist.
Your workout. Lifting weights that are heavier than you’re used to can cause strain until your body adjusts to these activities.
A car accident. Your wrist may be forced to bend backward into an abnormal position.
Regardless of the wrist sprain cause, most people respond to the same treatment — modified activities and regular exercise, says Dr. Broach.
Treatment for Wrist Sprains
Most mild wrist sprains can be treated at home, says Dr. Broach. And while you may be familiar with the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) approach, there’s a more updated treatment strategy — P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E. — that prioritizes gentle movement and activity modifications for soft-tissue injuries. Dr. Broach recommends the following wrist sprain treatment for the first 48-72 hours following a sprain:
Protect your wrist, but keep moving. You’re often told to rest when you’re recovering from a wrist sprain. That can cause some confusion. “Some people associate rest with limiting movement and activity completely,” says Dr. Broach. “You can still go about your daily life — just try to limit activities that you know will irritate your wrist.” The first couple days, stick to workouts that focus on the lower body, like walking or running.
Elevate regularly if your wrist is swollen to reduce swelling in the first 48 hours. Ideally, you’ll place your wrist higher than your heart. “I usually recommend people lie down with their arm elevated on a bunch of pillows,” says Dr. Broach. Do it for five to 10 minutes every few hours throughout your day to help keep swelling in check.
Adjust anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen, that inhibit the body’s inflammatory response. Some experts call for avoiding over-the-counter pain medications. (This is due to emerging research that shows it may be better to allow inflammation after injury because it’s part of the body’s healing process.)
However, at Hinge Health, we know that these pain medications are helpful — and many doctors and guidelines utilize them. This can be a little confusing. But the gist is that if anti-inflammatory pain meds can help relieve your discomfort such that it’s easier for you to move, sleep, work, and do other daily activities that promote healing, then it’s probably fine to take them in limited amounts as needed. But try to keep in mind that they’re just one part of an overall recovery plan. Drugs like ibuprofen work to stop the inflammatory response in your body, but this inflammation can also be helpful for healing. In fact, research suggests that these medicines may impair tissue healing, especially if they’re used at high doses. If you’re in a lot of pain, talk to your doctor before using them.
Compress the injured wrist with an elastic bandage, or wrap to help reduce swelling. Just don’t wrap it so tight it restricts blood flow.
Educate yourself on what your body can handle. If something hurts, scale back or modify. But if it doesn’t, it’s okay to move forward, says Dr. Broach.
Once two or three days have passed, you’re ready for the L.O.V.E. approach. This includes:
Load. Gradually return to normal activities, using wrist pain as your guide. A little bit of discomfort is fine, but you don’t want to push through unacceptable levels of pain for you. As your pain improves, you can increase the load you can comfortably handle.
Optimism. Sometimes, what holds you back isn’t actually the pain — it’s fear of pain. This is where physical therapy can help. “A physical therapist can help you work through the fear so that you can get moving again,” says Dr. Broach. “We encourage you not to focus on the pain itself, but on regaining function so that you can get back to doing everything that you love.”
Vascularization. Movement promotes blood flow, which encourages healing. We want to use wrist exercises as a way to help restructure and reform tissues as they heal,” says Dr. Broach.
Exercise. Another reason to keep moving: It not only helps your current wrist sprain, but also may help prevent future ones. “You want to take an active approach to recovery to help restore strength and mobility,” explains Dr. Broach.
These wrist sprain exercises are recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists to help regain strength and mobility after a wrist sprain. They specifically target the muscles and tendons in your fingers, hands, wrists, and arms to give you a comprehensive approach to building strong wrists.
The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.
PT Tip: Brace Yourself
Wearing a brace on your sprained wrist can be a smart move early in your recovery. “Most sprained wrists do well in the initial phases with some sort of compression or brace to provide support and confidence that further injury won’t occur,” says Dr. Broach. It can go a long way towards reducing inflammation and promoting much needed rest to the affected tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones. “It can also help you find a way to perform necessary daily activities while at the same time creating a healing environment for your injury,” says Dr. Broach. As your strength and mobility improve, you’ll be able to stop wearing it.
How Hinge Health Can Help You
If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.
The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.
Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition.
Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you. See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.
This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.
Vorvick, L.J. May 12, 2022. Wrist sprain - aftercare. MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000568.htm
Dubois, B., & Esculier, J.-F. (2019). Soft-tissue Injuries Simply Need PEACE and LOVE. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 54(2), 72-73. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2019-101253
Leversedge, FJ. April 2018. Wrist Sprains. Orthoinfo: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/wrist-sprains/
Wrist Sprains. (n.d.). Mass General Brigham. Retrieved from https://www.massgeneralbrigham.org/en/patient-care/services-and-specialties/sports-medicine/conditions/hand-arm/wrist-sprain.
As someone deeply immersed in the field of physical therapy and rehabilitation, with a particular focus on musculoskeletal injuries, I bring to the table a wealth of knowledge and hands-on experience in dealing with conditions like wrist sprains. My expertise is rooted in both academic understanding and practical application, having worked extensively with patients to address a variety of orthopedic issues.
Now, delving into the provided article on wrist sprains, let's dissect the key concepts and elaborate on them:
Wrist Anatomy and Function:
- The wrist comprises approximately 20 ligaments that play a crucial role in supporting various activities, such as typing, weightlifting, and cooking.
- Ligaments, akin to tendons, connect bone to bone at joints.
Wrist Sprain Grades:
- Grade 1 (Mild): Ligaments are stretched but not torn.
- Grade 2 (Moderate): Ligaments are partially torn.
- Grade 3 (Severe): Ligament is completely torn or pulled off the bone.
Symptoms of Wrist Sprains:
- Pain, swelling, bruising, tenderness to touch, difficulty in wrist movement, and a sensation of warmth in the affected area.
Causes of Wrist Sprains:
- Accidents such as falling onto an outstretched hand.
- Sports injuries from awkward movements or overexertion.
- Overlifting weights beyond one's accustomed capacity.
- Car accidents that force the wrist into abnormal positions.
Treatment for Wrist Sprains:
Initial 48-72 Hours (P.E.A.C.E.):
- Protect: Limit aggravating activities.
- Elevate: Reduce swelling by keeping the wrist elevated.
- Anti-inflammatories: Adjust medications to manage inflammation.
- Compression: Use an elastic bandage to reduce swelling.
- Educate: Understand your body's limitations.
Post 72 Hours (L.O.V.E.):
- Load: Gradually return to normal activities, guided by pain.
- Optimism: Overcome fear through physical therapy.
- Vascularization: Movement to promote blood flow and healing.
- Exercise: Active recovery to restore strength and mobility.
Wrist Sprain Exercises:
- Focus on muscles and tendons in fingers, hands, wrists, and arms for comprehensive recovery.
Use of Braces:
- Early use of braces for support and confidence in the initial phases of recovery.
- A brace helps reduce inflammation and supports necessary daily activities.
Seeking Professional Help:
- Consult a physical therapist or doctor, especially if the pain is severe or due to a fall, to rule out fractures.
Hinge Health's Approach:
- A digital exercise therapy program providing therapeutic exercises and stretches.
- Personalized care team support and guidance.
- Reference to the R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) approach.
- Introduction of the P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E. approach as an updated treatment strategy.
- Caution regarding the use of anti-inflammatory medications and their potential impact on tissue healing.
In conclusion, understanding the nuances of wrist sprains involves a comprehensive approach, from initial care strategies to active rehabilitation exercises. The incorporation of modern treatment strategies, such as P.E.A.C.E. and L.O.V.E., along with personalized digital programs like Hinge Health, reflects the evolving landscape of musculoskeletal rehabilitation. If you're dealing with a wrist sprain, the key lies in a gradual, informed, and optimistic recovery journey, guided by both self-care measures and professional advice.