Sprained wrist

What happens and what to do when you sprain your wrist

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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An introduction to sprained wrists

Sprained wrists are a common injury, and occur when you damage the ligaments in the wrist. The ligaments are strong fibrous tissues which connect the bones, support the wrist and also allow full movement and flexibility. Overstretching these fibres may cause them to be damaged or torn – this is called a sprain. The flexibility of the joint, and the fact that you use your hands and wrists a lot means that they are susceptible to this type of injury.

What are the causes of a sprained wrist?

Sprained wrists occur when you overstretch the ligaments. This can sometimes lead to tearing or rupturing of the fibres.

A wrist is easily sprained, particularly during a fall. This is because many people put their hands out in front to save themselves when they fall. When this happens, all your weight is forced through your wrist, more often than not damaging the ligaments. Sprains can occur when any force on the wrist is too great, and are frequent sporting injuries.

Twisting your wrist in the wrong direction or too far outwith its limits may also lead to a wrist sprain.

What are the symptoms of a sprained wrist?

The primary symptom of a sprained wrist is pain, particularly when trying to move it. Swelling and bruising may develop. However, the severity of the sprain determines what kind of symptoms you will experience. Sprains are split into three categories in order to class their severity and to look for the most appropriate treatment:

  • Grade 1 – this is the least severe type of sprain which is overstretching of the fibres and sometimes micro-tears. You will still be able to use your wrist, although some movements may be a little painful
  • Grade 2 – this usually involves partial tearing of the ligaments. It is more painful than a Grade 1 injury and may result in further swelling and bruising. It may be too painful to use
  • Grade 3 – this is when the ligament is completely torn and has perhaps been pulled away from the bone. You will not be able to use your wrist and there is likely to be bruising and swelling.

A sprained wrist can sometimes be confused with RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) of the wrist.

How can I prevent a wrist sprain?

There is nothing you can do to completely eliminate your chances of spraining your wrist. However, you do not need to put yourself at extra risk of injury, by following some simple measures.

A lot of wrist sprains occur when it is snowing or icy outside, as the slippery ground means that people are more likely to fall. You should wear strong slip-proof shoes, or even avoid going outside when the conditions are really bad.

If you are taking part in sport, you can wear wrist braces to support them during impact. In some sports it is also important to warm up your hands and wrists first to make sure that they are fully flexible.

You can also learn how to fall correctly, by wrapping your arms into your body and rolling. This way, the weight is spread evenly across your torso. It is much safer than the natural instinct of sticking out your hand to save your face.

What are the treatments for wrist sprains?

The type and severity of your injury dictates the sort of treatment you should have. Immediately after spraining your wrist you should follow the PRICE procedure, and within the next 72 hours you should also protect your injury against further HARM. This will provide the best start towards recovery and minimise pain and damage.

You may also find that pain killers and anti-inflammatories, including herbal remedies such as those containing arnica can help ease your discomfort.

For some injuries, particularly Grade 3 sprains, you may need to seek medical attention. It is important to give your injury adequate recovery time so that it returns to full strength and mobility. Continuing to use your injured wrist can lead to further problems such as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

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