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.
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. They 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.
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 either are overstretched or torn. Symptoms of a wrist sprain include:
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
Strains refer to injuries of tendons, the elastic tissue that attaches muscles to bones. This results in the muscles surrounding the wrist being stretched past their normal limits and becoming injured.
Symptoms of a wrist strain include:
Treatment for wrist strains include increasing range of motion, promoting muscle healing, introducing specific resistive and strengthening exercises, and integrating functional tasks to promote independence in all daily activities. Both sprains and strains are relatively common injuries that affect everyone from professional athletes to weekend warriors.
Conservative treatment usually can help manage the sprain or strain without having to see a doctor. Immediately following the injury this method can be utilized to manage swelling and pain.
This is know as the RICE Protocol
Regardless of whether it is a wrist sprain vs. strain your physician may suggest a brace to aid in activity modification of the wrist. 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. Depending on the results, this 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
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