Wrist Sprain vs Strain

JOI Wrist Sprain vs. StrainWrist sprain vs strain

Wrist Sprain vs Strain: Anatomy

The wrist is comprised of 8 carpal bones consisting of a proximal and distal row including tendons, ligaments, and nerves. These tendons and the median nerve travel through the carpal tunnel which are responsible for movement, stabilization, and sensation to the wrist, hand, and fingers. It is often not easy to tell a wrist sprain vs strain.  A physician will do a thorough exam to determine which diagnosis is correct. 

Wrist AnatomyWrist Anatomy  

Wrist Sprain vs Strain

An injury occurring to any of the ligaments of the wrist is known as a  wrist sprain while an injury to the tendon(s) is referred to as a wrist strain. 

These injuries can occur from a number of different ways but most commonly include falling onto an outstretched hand (FOOSH injury) or impact to the wrist from an object such as a ball in sports. 

The ligaments and/or tendons either are overstretched or torn leading to increased pain, swelling, bruising, instability, and loss of motion/strength. Sprains are usually categorized by levels as follows:

  • Level 1: Ligament is overstretched or minimally torn without instability of the joint
  • Level 2: More significant tear but not complete with some instability
  • Level 3: Ligament is completely torn resulting in instability of the joint


Conservative treatment usually can help manage the sprain or strain without having to see a doctor. Immediately following the injury rest, ice, compression, and elevation can be utilized to manage swelling and pain.

A wrist brace can help to immobilize the wrist to limit movement and aggravation of the ligament or tendon. Medications such as anti-inflammatories can also help to decrease swelling and pain. In severe cases, an MRI may be obtained to determine the extent of the injury which may warrant surgical intervention.  Some severe wrist sprains and wrist strains may be treated with surgery.  It is important to be evaluated by an orthopedic physician so that the best course of action can be determined. 

It is often hard to tell if you have a wrist sprain vs strain.  If your pain does not go away, you should seek out an appointment to get it evaluated.  To learn more about the wrist, go to this Wrist Sprain Video

If you would like to learn more about the latest technology available for the wrist, go to: https://www.joionline.net/news/joi-partners-with-activarmor/

By: Julia Guthart, CHT, OT



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