July 6, 2019

How do you tell if a wrist is broken or sprained?

Hand, Wrist and Elbow | Non-operative Care


A wrist sprain happens when ligaments, or tissues that attach bones and joints to the wrist, stretch or tear. This is caused by the bending of the wrist by force, typically when an outstretched hand breaks a fall. This can happen during daily activities but is more likely to be the result of sport-related activities.  

What are the different grades of wrist sprains? 

There are different grades of wrist sprains that span from a stretch or small tear in the fibers of the ligament to a total tear through the ligament or the tissues that attach to the bone.  

  • Grade 1 (mild): Ligaments are only stretched. 
  • Grade 2 (moderate): Ligaments are slightly torn and can result in loss of function. 
  • Grade 3 (severe): Ligament is totally torn or has detached from the bone. If the ligament detaches from the bone, it is possible for it to also take a small piece of the bone, which is known as an avulsion fracture. Typically, any injuries in this grade category will require surgery.  

It is possible for what seems like a mild sprain to involve a ligament tear which can result in issues in the long run without surgery. If the wrist injury doesn’t resolve on its own within a few days or there is ongoing pain, it is critical to see a hand specialist to avoid long term problems, such as arthritis

Relieve pain from hand, wrist or elbow injuries

What does a sprained wrist look like?

There are several signs of a sprained wrist. Sprained wrist symptoms usually begin with wrist pain and swelling.

How to know if you sprained your wrist:

  • Pain 
  • Swelling 
  • Bruising 
  • Tenderness in the area of the injury 
  • The sensation of a pop or tear in the wrist
  • Loss of mobility 

Wrist sprains are common and can be self-diagnosed. However, a doctor can help ensure that you don’t have a broken wrist

How to tell a sprained wrist vs. broken wrist

A doctor’s diagnosis is required to differentiate between a break and a sprain. A break can be detected if there is tenderness in specific areas. X-rays are required to confirm a break. If there is a sprain, X-rays will show misalignments in the bones of the wrist.  

How to heal a sprained wrist

It is possible for mild wrist sprains to be self-treated at home. The recommendation for sprained wrist treatment is rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE). Aspirin or ibuprofen can also help minimize swelling. If swelling doesn’t go down in 48 hours or the sprain doesn’t resolve in two to three days, you should call your hand and wrist specialist. 

  • Rest: Avoid using the wrist for at least two days.  
  • Ice: Ice the injury right away and continue applying ice a few times a day for 20 minutes each time. 
  • Compression: A compression bandage is how to wrap a sprained wrist. It can be used to minimize swelling and provide wrist support. 
  • Elevation: Elevate your wrist above your heart.  

Medical treatment is recommended for moderate and severe sprains. Splints are typically used for moderate sprains. Severe sprains may need surgery in order to connect the ligament to the bone or to reconstruct the ligament.  

How long for a sprained wrist to heal? 

After a surgery, sprained wrist recovery time is estimated to be eight to 12 weeks. Depending on the severity of the injury physical therapy or at-home exercises may be recommended to strengthen the wrist and increase range of motion. 

Learn more about hand, wrist and elbow treatment at OrthoIndy. 

Schedule an appointment 

Your well-being is important to us. Click the button below or call us to schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists. If your injury or condition is recent, you can walk right into one of our OrthoIndy Urgent Care locations for immediate care. For rehabilitation and physical therapy, no referral is needed to see one of our physical therapists

Schedule an Appointment Call OrthoIndy 317.802.2000

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