The wrist is the most complex joint in the body, consisting of many bones and ligaments that can be easily injured by sports-related incidents. The most common wrist injuries among young athletes are wrist fractures and sprains, which are usually caused by unexpected falls onto an outstretched hand.

The wrist joint consists of 10 bones altogether: two long forearm bones, the radius and the ulna, and eight small carpal bones that lie between the bones of the hand and the forearm bones. There are many ligaments that connect and support each of these bones.

According to the 2012 Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush/Illinois Athletic Trainers Association survey of Illinois certified athletic trainers, wrist injuries were reported among the top five most common high school sports injuries.

What are common wrist injuries among young athletes?

The two most common types of wrist fractures, or breaks, are Colles’ fractures and scaphoid fractures. A Colles’ fracture is a break in the end of the radius, which is located on the thumb side of the forearm. The scaphoid bone is a small wrist bone that is adjacent to the radius near the thumb. Both types of fractures are caused by similar impacts, however scaphoid fractures frequently occur in younger people and can lead to more serious problems.

A wrist sprain, or tearing of a ligament, is another common sports injury seen in young athletes. Wrist sprains are given grades to indicate the severity of the sprain:

  • Grade 1: Mild sprain where the ligaments are stretched, small partial tears are possible.
  • Grade 2: Moderate sprain where the ligaments are partially torn, there may be wrist instability and loss of functionality.
  • Grade 3: Severe sprain where the ligament is completely torn, may also be accompanied by a fracture.

What sports can cause wrist problems?

While wrist sprains and fractures are seen in any sport in which athletes are at risk for an unexpected fall or sudden impact to the wrist joint, physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush frequently see wrist sprains in athletes who play basketball, baseball, football, hockey, wrestling, soccer, gymnastics, cheerleading, skiing, snowboarding, figure skating or inline skating. Any athlete who competes on a hard surface such as an indoor court or ice rink is also more susceptible to wrist injuries.

What are the symptoms of wrist fractures/sprains?

Common symptoms of a wrist fracture include:

  • Immediate pain, tenderness, bruising and swelling
  • Wrist deformity ? looks bent or hangs in an unusual way (not always evident with scaphoid fractures)
  • Pain, swelling and tenderness on the thumb side of the wrist (scaphoid fractures)
  • Limited range of motion in the wrist or thumb

Symptoms of a wrist sprain may include:

  • Pain, bruising and swelling at the wrist joint
  • Pain worsens with movement
  • Weakness of the hand muscles
  • Inability to move the wrist
  • Feel a “pop” or tear when the injury occurs

What is the recommended treatment for wrist fractures/sprains?

Treatment for wrist fractures include: Physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush may recommend surgery, depending on the type and severity of the wrist fracture. For example, it is more difficult to treat fractures located within the joints (intra-articular fractures), fractures that break through the skin (open fractures) and fractures that shatter the bone (comminuted fractures).

It is always important for the wrist to remain aligned in the correct position so the bone can heal properly, but different methods of holding the bone in place may be used. If the athlete does not need surgery, a cast may be put in place to stabilize the bone. If surgery is required, however, metal plates, screws or pins can be inserted to fix the fracture. Recovery time from a wrist fracture varies greatly; it may take several months to make a full recovery.

Treatment for wrist sprains include: In addition to anti-inflammatory pain medications, physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush may suggest that patients use the RICE method:

  • Rest for 48 hours, avoiding movements that aggravate symptoms
  • Ice the sprain for 48 hours after the injury, applying an ice pack to the wrist every three to four hours for 20 minutes to reduce swelling
  • Compress the swelling with an elastic bandage
  • Elevate the wrist above the heart

Physicians at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush say it is imperative that an athlete with a wrist injury see a doctor and get an X-ray to ensure there is not an unrecognized fracture. Many times, scaphoid fractures do not show an obvious deformity in the wrist and can be mistaken for a severe sprain. A splint or cast may be necessary to hold the joint in place. In severe cases where the ligament is completely torn, it may need to be repaired with surgery. Physical therapy is recommended after a sprain to help the athlete return to his or her sport in the quickest and safest manner. After surgery, the ligament is expected to heal in six to eight weeks, but it can take several months for an athlete to fully recover.

What are some strategies/exercises to prevent wrist injuries?

PDF Download the Wrist Fractures/Sprains: Prevention Tips and Exercise Guide

Click here for full podcast playlist.