What is Sprained wrist? During a trip or fall, it is natural to stretch out your hand to absorb the impact of the fall. Your hands prevent you from facing worse injuries if you were to fall flat on your face.
Unfortunately, catching oneself during a fall is the most common reason for wrist injuries. These wrist injuries include sprains and fractures.
There is little that you do not do with your hands throughout the day.
To try to go about simple, daily tasks with wrist pain is debilitating. When your wrist tries to support your weight during a fall, it usually stresses the ligaments or bones. The damage done here can be one of two different injuries: a sprain or a broken bone.
What Is the Difference Between a Sprain and a Break?
First, it’s important to understand the complexity of the wrist. The wrist contains 13 different bones and several ligaments that stretch from one bone to the other.
When you sprain your wrist, this involves stretching or tearing one of the ligaments. A fracture or break, on the other hand, involves breaking any one of those bones.
None of these injuries has to be particularly serious to be a cause of major pain. Torn ligaments are not easy to manage without a doctor’s help and neither are breaks. A break can be as simple as a hairline fracture and still cause severe pain.
Comparison of Symptoms
Before a patient arrives at the hospital, in many instances, he or she already has an idea of what might be wrong. In the case of a sprain vs. fracture, however, it’s common for people to be mistaken.
This is because the two injuries share many of the same symptoms. Also, you can sprain or break your wrist in similar ways.
Bruising and Swelling
One of the telltale signs of either injury is bruising. This will normally start to occur quickly after the injury.
Also, you’ll be able to see clear signs of swelling and have a painful tenderness throughout the wrist.
In some cases, this may even spread up the arm or down to your fingers. Both will also ache, but there is a way to tell the difference between the two aches.
Differences in Sprains and Fractures
While similar, there are differences that can alert you to the type of injury you might have.
First, let’s talk about what you might notice at the time of the injury.
While you might sprain your wrist during a fall, if the impact is sudden, with no twisting or turning of the joint, then it’s likely that the sudden impact and pressure fractured a bone.
If it was quiet enough, you might even hear a pop or crack upon impact.
Numbness Throughout the Affected Area
Your fingers will have less range of motion and you might even feel numbness throughout the affected area.
Both injuries limit your movement in the wrist, but with a fracture, it is going to be more severe.
You won’t be able to move your wrist in some directions, or at all in some cases.
The pain itself is unrelenting. For a break, the pain isn’t going to ease up. In fact, it is more likely to get worse over time.
The longer you leave it, the more it’s going to hurt and the harder it will be to be able to bear any weight on the bone.
Now, if you are accustomed to sprains or breaks, you may be able to differentiate by the type of pain alone.
This is not foolproof, however. If you have a higher pain tolerance or are unfamiliar with either pain, then it may be near impossible to tell the difference.
The pain in a sprain is generally tolerable compared to a fracture. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions when talking about injuries.
With a wrist sprain, you may be able to move your wrist.
It will be uncomfortable and painful, but you will not have as severe of limitations as you would if there was a fracture.
Look at the wrist joint: is it red or warm? Sprains are more likely to be red and warm at the joint.
The pain in a sprain isn’t constant. You will have breaks between pain sessions.
Unlike the break, which results in a constant ache, this is not the case with a sprain.
Usually, the pain is intermittent and comes during movement.
What to Do After a Wrist Injury
Most of the time, we cannot all leave for the doctor right away. For some patients, knowing the severity of the injury and if a doctor’s appointment is required is one of the main concerns before deciding to go.
Of course, there is a chance that you don’t have a broken or sprained wrist at all but have instead strained the ligaments in your wrist.
If you think that you might have a minor injury or cannot be treated right away, you should wrap it in ice and elevate.
While it rests, keep a close eye on it and keep track of your symptoms. Your body will let you know if it’s getting better or if it’s getting worse.
If it feels like it is getting worse, then you need to have it evaluated. A sprain or fracture will not go away on its own unless you take care of it.
Your doctor can also prescribe you medicine for pain and inflammation.
Treatment for Broken Wrist
If you suspect you might have a wrist fracture, it’s imperative to have it seen by a doctor. If your wrist is not in the correct position, you have to have it reset.
Doctors can reset your wrist with general anesthesia to help with the pain.
For the first few days, you may need a splint until the swelling goes down.
This could last up to a week. Afterwards, you may need a cast. Depending on how bad the break is, it generally needs to stay on for about six to eight weeks.
In case the cast gets loose, you may need to get it replaced part way through your treatment.
Throughout your recovery, you also want to have regular X-rays to check if your wrist is healing properly.
While the majority of breaks can heal on their own, more severe breaks may require surgery.
Treatment for a Sprained Wrist
When you sprain your wrist, doctors will generally give you a grade for the type of sprain.
Minor Ligament Damage
Grade I is a pain with minor ligament damage. Grade II is severe damage, looseness of the joint and some loss of function.
Grade III is a pain, a torn ligament, severe joint looseness and complete loss of function.
The treatment is as follows. You should rest your wrist for at least two days.
Ice can help Reduce the Swelling
Ice can help reduce the swelling, and you can do it for about half an hour every four hours until you are pain-free.
A doctor may give you a brace, cast or splint to help keep your wrist from moving while it heals. This is not usually a long-term solution.
As with a break, more extensive and severe sprains may require surgery.
How the Recovery Process Works
Regardless of whether you broke your wrist or sprained it, the healing process takes time. It’s important that you don’t rush the process.
Listen to your doctor and do your best to stay away from activities that will put more strain on your wrist.
As you heal, there will be stretching and strengthening exercises that will help you.
However, you should not take these on until a doctor has worked out a plan with you.
If you want to know if you’re recovered, this is what you should look for in both cases.
Should be no pain on the Wrist
First, there should be no pain when your wrist is at rest. Likewise, if you work out, you should be able to grip objects easily without pain.
Your strength should recover to normal also. Both arms and wrists should have the same strength.
Remember that if you work your wrist too hard or return to normal activity before it’s healed, you could end up with permanent damage. Sprains and breaks can be serious.
Even if it is a minor sprain, you can worsen it the damage if you do not listen to your body and allow it time to heal.
With all that you do with your hands throughout the day, losing any range of motion can feel crippling.
Wrist injuries are some of the most common in sports and in everyday life.
Most Patients are Athletes
After all, while many wrist injuries happen on the field, athletes are not the most common patients in the emergency room.
In fact, the majority are from people who slipped or fell and caught themselves on their hand.
It is easy to damage the ligaments in your wrist and one fall can fracture your bone.
While there may be signs that tell you what type of injury you have, it’s imperative that you have an x-ray.
While minor sprains may not require a lot of medical attention, it’s better to be safe.
Featured Image: CC By SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons