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How To Heal A Sprained Wrist Fast

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Wrist sprains are among the most common injuries for athletes, but you don’t have to participate in sports to get one.

Anyone can fall; anyone can sprain a wrist.

A momentary loss of balance usually creates the instinctive reaction to reach your hand out to catch yourself. When your hand hits the ground, the impact can stretch or tear the ligaments that connect bones and joints in the wrist.

The result is a wrist sprain, which can be painful and can make it hard to use the affected wrist.

Depending on the severity of the sprain, you may have to visit an orthopedic doctor for care. Ochsner offers the highest level of specialized orthopedic care in the Gulf South. 

Types of wrist sprains

The wrist has approximately 20 ligaments that support eight wrist bones at the end of the forearm. These ligaments are like ropes that provide stability and hold the ends of bones in place. This keeps the bones and joints in the wrist from twisting apart and becoming dislocated.

If a fall forces the wrist to bend back toward the forearm, these ligaments can be stretched. This can cause small tears in the ligaments, or can cause the ligament to snap completely.

Wrist sprains can happen to anyone who has a fall. Athletes of any sport frequently end up with wrist sprains, but anyone who takes a spill can sustain one.

Wrist sprains are divided into three grades based on the degree of injury to the ligaments.

  • Grade 1: This is a mild sprain. The ligaments are stretched, but not torn.
  • Grade 2: This is a moderate sprain. The ligaments are partially torn and may involve some loss of function.
  • Grade 3: This is a severe sprain. The ligament is completely torn, or the ligament is pulled off its attachment to bone. These are significant injuries that require medical or surgical care. If the ligament tears away from the bone, it may take a small chip of bone with it. This is called an avulsion fracture.

Sprained wrist symptoms

If you have a sprained wrist, it most likely will hurt. You might also experience:

  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Tenderness to touch and a feeling of warmth around the injury
  • A feeling of popping or tearing inside the wrist
  • Loss of motion
  • Weakness in the injured wrist

It’s important to see a doctor if a wrist injury – even a mild one – does not improve within a few days.

An injury that appears to be mild with little swelling could still involve a torn ligament and require medical treatment to avoid long term issues in the joint. And what might seem like a mild or moderate injury could be fractured. If a fracture is left untreated, you could eventually need surgery to fix a problem that could have been avoided with earlier, less invasive treatment.

The doctor will examine the patient’s wrist and check its movement. An X-ray or other imagine test may be ordered to help confirm the diagnosis.

Sprained wrist relief

Mild wrist sprains will usually improve by using the RICE treatment: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation. This means:

  • Rest: Try not use your wrist for at least 48 hours.
  • Ice: Apply ice immediately after the injury to keep the swelling down. Use cold packs for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day. Do not apply ice directly on the skin.
  • Compression: Wear an elastic compression bandage to reduce swelling.
  • Elevation: As often as possible, rest with your wrist raised up higher than your heart.

Aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling. However, if severe pain and swelling persist for more than 48 hours, you should see a doctor.

Recovery time depends on the severity of the sprain and how well the injury is managed. With proper treatment, a mild sprain should heal in a matter of days or weeks. Moderate and severe sprains can take months to improve, or may even require surgery.

That said, people heal at different rates so it’s hard to predict the exact recovery time for a particular sprain.

A doctor might recommend a splint to keep the injured wrist from moving. After removing the splint, a doctor might recommend stretching exercises to help the patient overcome stiffness in the joint and regain full mobility.

Will my sprained wrist need surgery?

Severe sprains may require surgery to reattach the torn ligament to the bone. Doctors can also use a tendon graft to reconstruct the injured ligament.

Wrist surgery is usually minimally invasive, but severe injuries might require a more complex surgery. Your surgeon will discuss the best option for you.

After surgery, your care team will recommend a rehabilitation program to regain strength and flexibility. 

Ross Dunbar, MD, is a double board-certified orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hand and wrist conditions. If you have suffered a wrist sprain, or for any other injury of your hand or wrist, schedule an appointment with Dr. Dunbar.

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