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Wrist Sprain


  • A wrist sprain is an injury to the bones and ligaments of the wrist that results in pain from an incomplete ligament tear.
    • No associated long-term disability
    • Because many serious injuries are easily confused with wrist sprains, the patient with substantial swelling or persistent pain should be suspected of having a more serious injury.
  • Classification:
    • Grade I: No ligament damage (stretch of the ligament without tearing)
    • Grade II: Partial tear
    • Grade III: Complete tear
  • Wrist sprain occurs most commonly in adults; it is rare in children.
  • Suspect an injury to the growth plate if swelling and tenderness are seen.
  • Elderly persons are more likely to suffer a fracture.
  • Males and females are affected equally.
This is a common injury because the wrist is part of the 1st reflexive defense against injury.
Risk Factors
  • Frequent falls
  • Overuse
Pathological Findings
  • A sprain of the wrist involves partial stretching or disruption of the ligaments holding the radius and the carpal bones in alignment.
  • No major interosseous ligament injury or fracture should be seen.
  • This injury usually occurs from a fall on an outstretched hand.
  • It also may occur from a twisting injury as the hand is grasping an object.
  • Overuse or unusually heavy activity with wrist
Associated Conditions
  • A fall on an outstretched hand produces a continuum of injury from stretching and mild tearing of the ligament to fracture of the bones and dislocation of the articulation, such as the following:
    • Scaphoid fracture
    • Radial styloid fracture
    • Perilunate dislocation
Signs and Symptoms
  • Signs: Swelling over the wrist joint
  • Symptoms:
    • Pain on ROM
    • Stiffness
    • Decreased grip strength
    • Little pain on axial loading
Physical Exam
  • Inspect the wrist for amount of swelling.
  • Carefully perform ROM.
    • It should be possible to achieve a complete range if done slowly.
    • Check pronation and supination of the wrist.
  • Palpate the structures on the dorsum of the wrist individually for tenderness and to focus the subsequent radiographic examination.
  • Palpate the volar part of the wrist; tenderness increases the likelihood of a serious injury.
  • Inspect the snuffbox for tenderness.
  • Palpate the wrist extensor tendons, both over and away from the wrist.
No serum tests
  • Radiography:
    • Obtain AP, lateral, and oblique films of the wrist.
      • The oblique film (also termed the navicular view) is most useful to rule out an occult injury to this bone.
    • Order a clenched-fist view if scapholunate instability is suspected.
      • A positive view shows >3 mm of space between the scaphoid and lunate.
    • A coned (specially focused) lateral view of the wrist may be needed to rule out avulsion fractures of the triquetrum or of the lunate.
  • MRI or fluoroscopy may be used by the orthopaedist or hand surgeon in cases of an unclear diagnosis or to search for an occult injury.
  • If plain radiographs are normal, a bone scan may be ordered to rule out occult fracture.
Differential Diagnosis
  • The diagnosis of a wrist sprain is clinical and made primarily by palpation over the ligaments and by the exclusion of more serious injuries.
    • Navicular or scaphoid fracture:
      • This serious injury may progress to a painful nonunion if it is not immobilized.
      • Signaled by pain in the snuffbox area of the hand, between the extensor and abductor tendons to the thumb
      • A scaphoid radiographic view usually shows it.
      • If not, a bone scan may be ordered, or the wrist may be immobilized in a thumb spica cast for 2 weeks and then rechecked.
  • Scapholunate interosseous ligament injury:
    • This tear of the ligament that joins the lunate and scaphoid bones may result in late wrist instability, clicking, and degeneration.
    • The signs are a gap >3 mm between the scaphoid and lunate on plain posteroanterior radiograph or an angle of >60° between these bones on the lateral radiograph.
  • Avulsion or chip fracture of the lunate or triquetrum:
    • This injury, which may simulate a sprain, is best seen on coned or detailed lateral films of the wrist.
    • Longer immobilization is required.
  • De Quervain tenosynovitis:
    • This overuse injury of the extensor-abductor tendons of the thumb results in aching on the radial side of the wrist and a positive Finkelstein test.
  • TFCC tear:
    • This tear involves the distal radioulnocarpal joint and causes ulnar-sided wrist pain.
  • Distal radioulnar joint subluxation:
    • This injury is noted by a dorsal prominence over the distal ulna, especially in pronation.
  • Subluxation of the extensor carpi ulnaris tendon:
    • This injury usually occurs with pronation and supination of the wrist and causes pain that is frequently associated with snapping.
  • Lunate dislocations:
    • These serious injuries occur after falls and high-energy trauma to the wrist.
    • The lunate is completely dislocated on the radiographs.
    • This injury frequently is overlooked on initial plain radiographs.
General Measures
  • Immobilization for comfort
  • Counseling to return to activity when symptoms subside
  • Specialist referral if symptoms persist
  • If a scaphoid fracture is suspected, the wrist should be immobilized in a thumb spica cast and re-examined in 2 weeks.
  • If carpal instability is suspected, refer patient to a specialist.
  • If a sprain is suspected, ice, immobilization, and analgesics are appropriate.
  • A wrist splint may be made of padded plaster or fiberglass or may be ready-made for easy removal and reapplication.
  • Remove the wrist splint when the pain subsides, usually in 5 days, at the most.
  • If pain persists >5 days and is not improving, referral to a specialist may be indicated.

  • When pain subsides, early return to activity should be encouraged.
  • If clicking or pain develops, the wrist should be re-evaluated.
Special Therapy
Physical Therapy
  • The patient may perform therapy at home with an exercise program or directly under the supervision of a therapist.
  • The goals of rehabilitation are return to preinjury ROM, strength, and dexterity.
First Line
NSAIDs are useful for patients with pain.
  • Surgery is not indicated for simple wrist sprains.
  • Major ligament tears that result in instability often necessitate surgical repair (ligament reconstruction, or partial or complete wrist fusion).
  • Full recovery is expected after a wrist sprain.
  • If it is not achieved, evaluate the patient for other conditions.
  • Reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a syndrome of sympathetically maintained pain resulting in exaggeration of the injury response
  • Ankylosis
Patient Monitoring
  • The patient should be seen 7-14 days after the injury.
  • If the pain has resolved, no additional evaluation is necessary.
  • If substantial pain is still present, radiographs and consultation with an orthopaedic or hand surgeon should be obtained.
842.00 Wrist pain
Patient Teaching
Instruct the patient to remove the splint in 5 days and to begin ROM and activities of daily living.
If feasible, patients should avoid falling on the outstretched hand.
Q: How is the diagnosis of wrist sprain made?
A: The diagnosis is based on clinical examination and careful exclusion of more serious injuries. The patient is tender to palpation over the wrist ligaments.
Q: How should a wrist sprain be treated?
A: The wrist should be immobilized in a splint for patient comfort. Anti-inflammatory medication may be helpful initially. If the patient is tender over the anatomic snuffbox, but no scaphoid fracture is seen, the splint should be a below-the-elbow thumb spica, and the patient should have a follow-up examination in 7-14 days for repeat radiographic evaluation.

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