What’s Your Grade? Even Milder Wrist Pain May Need a Doctor’s Care

What’s Your Grade? Even Milder Wrist Pain May Need a Doctor’s Care

Wrist sprains rank from mild to severe in a grading system:

Grade 1: Overstretched ligaments

Grade 2: Partially torn ligaments

Grade 3: Fully torn ligaments and sometimes a fracture

Wrist sprains occur after a fall on an outstretched hand and bent wrist. They're most common during sports or falling accidents. Symptoms such as swelling, pain at impact, pain that doesn’t go away, bruising, tenderness, a popping or tearing feeling, and feverish skin feelings are all important to note, but they don’t tell the whole story.

The tricky part about diagnosing a wrist sprain is that pain and appearance don't always correspond to the severity. A grade 3 sprain may have very little swelling but still require surgery to a torn ligament to avoid problems later. Grade 3 sprains can also have fractures that aren’t felt by the patient or even easily diagnosed by a general doctor looking at an x-ray. If left untreated, the wrist heals incorrectly and often requires corrective surgery by an orthopedic hand specialist.

Surgery requires a long period of immobilization followed by a hand therapy regimen with a specialist. Full recovery after surgery may take several months. Nonsurgical treatments include a shorter immobilization time followed by stretching exercises. Recovery varies from a few weeks to a few months.

Avoid potential lifelong pain and stiffness by having your wrist pain evaluated and treated as soon as possible by a board certified orthopedic doctor specializing in hand problems. This type of doctor is highly experienced and trained to properly diagnose and treat all levels of wrist sprains. He or she can also evaluate your overall arm and body mechanics (it’s all connected!) and prescribe the right treatment and recovery program to restore you to your best possible health.

Prevent wrist injuries by wearing protective gear during high-speed, high-risk sports, such as skating and skateboarding. Ski poles can also contribute to wrist sprains if not dropped when you fall. Take extra care not to fall or trip on wet surfaces, loose dirt or gravel, and uneven footing conditions.