Wrist injuries can occur during many activities. These include sports and recreation, work-related tasks, work or projects around the home, accidents and falls, and fistfights. The risk of a wrist injury is higher in contact sports such as wrestling, soccer, and football. Injuries can occur during high-speed sports such as in-line skating, snowboarding, skiing, and biking.
The most common sporting injury to the wrist is a wrist sprain. There are many ligaments in the wrist that can be torn or stretched, resulting in a sprained wrist. This commonly occurs when the wrist is bent forcefully or in a fall onto an outstretched hand. Sprains to the wrist can range from mild to severe and are graded depending upon the degree of ligament injury that exists.
Grade 1 – mild sprain where the ligaments are stretched but not torn
Grade 2 – moderate sprain where the ligaments are partially torn
Grade 3 – severe sprains that occur when there is significant complete tearing of ligaments
With grade 1 sprains, there is some mild discomfort and decreased range of motion. With grade 2 sprains there is more serious loss of function. Grade 3 sprains result when the ligament tears away from the bone and require surgical treatment. Many times this tearing leads to a small chip of the bone being torn away with the ligament. This is known as an avulsion fracture.
The most common symptoms of a wrist sprain include:
- Swelling of the wrist
- Bruising or discoloration of the skin around the wrist
- Pain at the time of the injury
- A feeling of popping or tearing inside the wrist
- Persistent pain when you move your wrist
- Tenderness at the injury site
- A warm or feverish feeling to the skin around the wrist
Most sprains can be treated with immobilization and rest. However, your orthopedic specialist may have to perform surgery to correct your wrist injury. This all depends on the severity of the sprain and intensity of the torn ligament. Surgery involves reconnecting the ligament to the bone. This procedure is followed by a period of rehabilitation with exercises to strengthen your wrist and restore motion.
Although the ligament can be expected to heal in 6 to 8 weeks, rehabilitation for a full recovery could take several months.
Other Injuries of the Wrist
Tendinosis – This is a syndrome that involves a series of very small tears (called microtears) in the tissue in and around the tendon. Common symptoms are pain, tenderness, decreased strength of the wrist, and limited movement.
De Quervain’s Tendonitis – This can occur in the hand and wrist when the thumb extensor tendons and the sheath covering these tendons swells and becomes inflamed. This leads to pain, tenderness, and decrease in motion of the wrist.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – This is caused by pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. The symptoms of this syndrome include numbness, tingling, weakness, and pain in the fingers, hand and wrist areas.
Colles’ Fracture – This type of fracture is a break across the radius that occurs when the hand is extended out during a fall. The break occurs causing the wrist to become shortened and extended. Teens that enjoy outdoor sporting activities often develop these types of fractures because falls often occur.
Symptoms of a Colles’ fracture include inability to straighten the wrist or to hold heavy objects, distortion in the shape or angle of the forearm above the wrist, and pain and swelling of the injured area. Many of these fractures are not severe and you can be placed in a splint and sling. Sometimes, the orthopedic specialist applies a fiberglass cast.
More severe fractures may require surgery including placement of pins or plates and screws. Recovery from this injury ranges from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on the severity of the fracture.