Losing your balance or tripping, then reaching out a hand to break your fall is a common way to sprain or fracture a wrist. You scramble to your feet in pain, with one question on your mind: Is my wrist broken or sprained?

Here’s what you should know about how these injuries occur and how best to handle them.

Learn more about the conditions and services available at UPMC Orthopaedic Care.

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Is It a Sprain or Fracture?

Sprains and fractures are typical wrist injuries, especially among athletes and older adults who are prone to trips and falls. They typically occur when your hand impacts the ground, pushing your wrist back toward your forearm. In a sprain, that movement can stretch or tear the ligaments and tendons in your wrist. A fracture occurs when one or more of the bones in your wrist breaks.

Only an x-ray can determine if it’s fracture. However, a fracture is more likely to cause sharp pain that prevents you from moving your wrist, while a sprain is marked by throbbing pain that may still allow for some range of motion.

Sprained Wrist Treatment

Most wrist sprains will heal on their own over time. To treat a sprain, wrap your wrist, rest it for at least 48 hours, and apply an ice pack every few hours for 20 minutes at a time.

Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen also can help. Your health care provider may recommend using a compression bandage or splint for a short period of time and may suggest stretches or exercises to strengthen your wrist as it heals.

Fractured Wrist Treatment

Depending on the fracture, a doctor may need to reset the bone, which is usually done under anesthesia. Otherwise, you’ll probably wear a cast or splint until the bone heals. Your doctor also may recommend physical therapy after the cast or splint is removed. Self-care measures include rest, ice, pain relievers, and stretching exercises.

Learn more about the conditions and services available at UPMC Orthopaedic Care.


About UPMC Orthopaedic Care

As a national leader in advanced orthopaedic care, UPMC treats a full range of musculoskeletal disorders, from the acute and chronic to the common and complex. Whether you have bone, muscle, or joint pain, we provide access to UPMC’s vast network of support services for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments and a full continuum of care. As leaders in research and clinical trials with cutting-edge tools and techniques, UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside appears on U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of the top hospitals in the country for orthopaedics.