Strains, Sprains & Ligament Tears

A sprain is an injury to a ligament either stretching or tearing. One or more ligaments can be injured during a sprain. The severity will depend on the extent of injury to a single ligament (whether the tear is partial or complete) and the number of ligaments involved.

A sprained wrist typically occurs after a fall on an outstretched hand stretches or tears the ligaments of the wrist. A wrist sprain is commonly caused by falling when playing sport. When an athlete falls on the hand, the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the wrist take to majority of the impact and can be stretched and torn. If these tissues are inflexible and weak, the risk of injury increases.

A wrist strain or sprain will cause pain, tenderness, and swelling around the wrist after a fall. It will be red, tender and warm to the touch. There may be bruising, decreased range of motion, and a dull deep ache in the wrist.

If you have these symptoms you should be examined to make sure there is no fracture.

Wrist sprains (like other sprains) are graded according to severity:

Grade 1 (mild) – over-stretching / micro-tears of ligaments

Grade 2 (moderate) - partial ligament tears and mild joint instability

Grade 3 (severe) - severe or complete ligament tears and significant joint instability

TREATMENT

Immediate treatment for an injury, such as a sprain or strain of the hand or wrist, includes the RICE formula – rest, ice, compression, and elevation. However, any injury that affects normal function or does not resume a normal appearance after 24 to 48 hours should be brought to your doctor’s attention. It can be difficult to distinguish between a sprain or strain and a fracture, and a specialist’s evaluation will be important to determine the appropriate treatment.

You will require an x-ray to ensure you have not broken the bones around the joint. In some cases a MRI can be helpful. This may be done if the diagnosis is unclear or if the symptoms do not resolve as expected.

More severe wrist sprain injuries, including complete tears of the ligaments and fractures of the bone may need different treatment and rehab than a simple sprained wrist. A broken wrist can lead to arthritis if not adequately treated, and joint instability may require surgery.

SURGERY

Surgery may be needed to repair a ligament that is torn completely, or if there is an associated fracture.