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 extended 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 requires medical or surgical care.  

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 injury doesn’t resolve on its own within a few days or there is ongoing pain in the wrist, it is critical to see a doctor to avoid lasting problems, such as arthritis

Wrist sprain symptoms 

  • 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 can you tell if a wrist is broken or sprained? 

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.  

Will a sprained wrist heal on its own? 

It is possible for mild wrist sprains to be self-treated at home. Rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) is recommended. Aspirin or ibuprofen can also help minimize swelling. If swelling doesn’t go down in two days or the sprain doesn’t resolve in two to three days, you should call a doctor. 

  • 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 can be used to minimize swelling. 
  • 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 do you rehab a sprained wrist? 

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
Julia Steele

By Julia Steele

Julia was the 2019 summer marketing intern at OrthoIndy. Julia is working on a bachelor’s degree in public relations, a minor in communication studies, and a concentration in media analytics at Ball State University. Julia will graduate May 2020.

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