Injuries can put a quick damper on an otherwise fun activity. This couldn’t be any truer for a sprained wrist. Simply falling the wrong way on your hands can lead to potentially weeks of recovery. A sprained wrist can cause the movements in the wrist to be limited and painful. 

The best way to reduce the inconvenience of a sprain is to be prepared in the event a sprain ever occurs. Below is a complete guide to sprained wrists. It includes the basics of what a sprain is, how to determine sprain severity, how it is treated, and why you should check with your doctor. 

What is a Sprain?

An important part of treating an injury is to understand what is causing the pain and what is actually injured within the body. The terms strains and sprains are often utilized interchangeably, however, these are two distinct injuries. 

A sprain is the damage of the tissue that holds neighboring bones together across a joint. This tissue is also known as a ligament and is made of collagen fibers. Ligaments are fairly strong fibers but they are still susceptible to injury. The most common ligament injuries are due to movements that overstretch the ligament fibers to the point of tearing. The degree of tearing can vary greatly from injury to injury. 

Sprains can occur at nearly all joints, but the most common sprains are in the knees, ankles, wrists, and elbows. Knowing which joints are more prone to sprains can allow you to take extra precautions to protect them from injury.

What Ligaments Are Sprained in a Wrist Sprain?

A wrist sprain is most commonly caused by someone landing on outstretched hands. When the force of the body’s weight is exerted on the wrist it causes these ligaments to stretch beyond their capabilities and tear. 

Depending on how an individual lands determines which ligaments are damaged. The two most common ligaments to get damaged in a wrist sprain are the scapholunate ligament and the triangular fibrocartilage complex. 

How to Determine Severity

One of the first things that need to be assessed when a wrist injury takes place is how bad the injury is. Determining the extent of the injury is important to ensure the proper treatment is utilized. 

There are three main grades of wrist sprains:

  • Mild – A mild sprain is a sprain that results in the overstretching of the ligaments. These sprains typically can be treated at home and will heal on their own given time. 
  • Partial Tear – A partial tear sprain is a sprain that results in a portion of the ligament being severed. This kind of sprain may need to be immobilized and could require surgery if the ligament is too unstable. 
  • Complete Tear – A complete tear of the ligament is the most severe kind of sprain. This grade of muscle sprain typically requires surgery to reattach the torn ligament together. 

Determining the severity of the injury is the first step to recovery. To determine how severe a suspected sprain is you should determine your range of motion, the amount of pain, and the inflammation. The worse the symptoms, typically the more progressed a sprain grade is.

The best way to determine the grade of sprain is to seek medical expertise if you’re in a lot of pain. A physician can diagnose the sprain grade through a physical exam in addition to imaging. X-rays, MRIs, and other imaging techniques can be utilized to visualize the injured ligament and definitively determine the injury to the ligament.

Treating a Sprained Wrist at Home

Many sprains occur during physical activities like soccer, basketball, skating, and more. A wrist sprain usually occurs when a person falls and lands on outstretched hands to brace themselves. To treat a sprain immediately and at home, one should follow the PRICE protocol. A breakdown of the protocol is below. 

  • Protect: The protected arm of the PRICE protocol describes the need to protect the sprain from further injury. For a wrist sprain, this typically means to cease the activity and rest the affected arm. One can also utilize a brace to prevent further incidental injuries to the area. 
  • Rest: Rest signifies the need to give the injured area time to heal. For a sprain, it is important to still utilize the joint to ensure that range of motion is retained during the healing process. To rest a sprain simply take it easy and allow your body the time it needs to heal.
  • Ice: Icing an injury helps by reducing inflammation and reducing the sensation of pain. Following a sprain, icing can typically provide inflammation relief for 24-72 hours after the injury. By reducing blood flow to the area, ice is able to reduce excessive inflammation however icing comes with precautions. Proper icing technique is imperative to avoid frostbite to the injury site. Proper technique involves pacing a barrier between the ice and the skin as well as not icing for longer than 15 minutes at a time. Following this technique will reduce the chances of getting frostbite. 

Once the swelling has gone away you may want to consider utilizing a menthol-based gel patch to provide a similar cooling sensation as ice without the hassle of needing to apply ice in small increments. Simply apply the patch and allow the menthol to provide a cooling relief to the area without having to worry about frostbite. 

  • Compression: Compression is accomplished through the utilization of compression wear or compression wraps. The goal of compression is to reduce swelling by squeezing the excess fluids away from the injury. For a wrist sprain, a compression wrap or compression gloves can be utilized to provide compression to the area. 
  • Elevation: Elevation refers to elevating the injury above the level of the heart. Having the injury above the level of the heart reduces swelling to the area by utilizing gravity to push the excess fluid back down to the heart. 

Getting the wrist elevated can be difficult. A great tool to have on hand is an elevation ramp. Typically used for the legs, an elevation ramp can be utilized to achieve maximum elevation of a sprained wrist to help minimize inflammation.

Getting a Sprained Wrist Treated at a Hospital

For anything more than a mild sprain, a trip to the hospital may be needed. Even with a suspected mild sprain, it is advised to go to a doctor to rule out any more serious wrist injuries. Below are two ways that a more severe sprain may be treated. 

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the only solution for completely torn ligaments. The procedure involves mending the ligament by replacing it. A ligament reconstructive surgery involves finding a suitable donor tissue and completely replacing the ligament with new tissue. 
  • Immobilization: Joint immobilization can be utilized for partial tears as well as in addition to surgery to allow the injury to heal. The immobilization across a joint is accomplished through the use of a cast, brace, or sling. Minimizing movements allows the body to heal and prevents further injury. 

Check With Your Doctor

When a sprained wrist occurs it can be easy to shrug it off and consider it not a big deal. The best piece of advice for treating a sprained wrist is to seek medical expertise. A medical professional will be able to rule out any severe complications. 

One of the biggest potential issues with a wrist sprain is the risk of a wrist bone fracture. Landing wrong on the wrists and the strain it places on the wrist bones could easily cause a wrist bone fracture. This pain can be easily confused with a sprain and without a doctor, the pain could be misinterpreted as a sprain. 


In summary, treating a sprained wrist involves understanding the severity of the injury and getting the appropriate treatment option. For mild sprains, one can follow the PRICE protocol and allow their wrist to heal. For more severe wrist sprains surgery or a cast may be needed to heal the injured ligament.