Wrist 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. 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. 

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. 

How do You Tell if Your Wrist is Sprained?

The ligaments either are overstretched or torn.  This leads 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



JOI Wrist Sprain vs. Strain, Wrist sprains are very common injuriesWrist sprain vs strain
Treatment of Wrist Sprains and Strains

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.

  1. Rest
  2. Ice
  3. Compression
  4. Elevation   

This is know as the RICE Technique.

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.Wrist sprains and strains are different in that sprains involve ligaments and strains involve tendons and muscles.  Wrist sprainsWrist Anatomy  
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. 

Related Articles: Pain In The Wrist , How To Treat A Wrist Sprain , and Wrist Hairline Fractures

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

By: Julia Guthart, CHT, OT

To schedule a physical therapy appointment at one of the 12 JOI Rehab Centers, please call904-858-7045.

If you think you might have a wrist sprain vs strain, you should find out which it is with a JOI Orthopedic Wrist and Hand Specialist.

To schedule and appointment, call 904-JOI-2000, schedule online, or click the link below.

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