• Team Joseph

Wrist Sprain or Broken Wrist: How to Tell the Difference


Injuring your wrist can be as easy as trying to stop your fall with an outstretched hand. But how bad is your wrist injury? Did you simply sprain the wrist or do you have something more serious, like a wrist fracture?


A broken wrist is just as common as a sprained one. Both these injuries are caused by similar mechanisms. So, if you’ve hurt your wrist, here’s how to tell if it’s broken or not.


Symptoms of a Sprained Wrist vs. a Wrist Fracture

Unfortunately, the symptoms of a broken wrist and a sprained wrist are relatively similar. These symptoms include:

  • Swelling

  • Bruising

  • Weakness

  • Tenderness

  • Pain

Although it’s easy to assume these symptoms are worse with a fractured wrist, that’s not always the case. For example, a broken wrist can cause dull or mild pain while pain from a wrist sprain is often more severe.


There is one unique symptom of a broken wrist, and that is deformity. If the wrist appears bent or twisted out of shape or out of place, it’s broken. A wrist fracture is also accompanied by a constant dull ache that is unrelenting whereas pain from a wrist sprain is intermittent with movement.


Because symptoms of wrist sprains and wrist fractures are so similar, an x-ray can be the only way to tell the extent of the wrist injury. Your orthopedic physician will examine the x-ray to make sure none of the bones in the wrist (you have eight) are broken and suggest a proper choice of treatment.


Treating an Injured Wrist

It’s essential to treat your wrist injury right away. Before your visit to our Eagle County clinics in Vail or Edwards, you should:

  1. Stabilize

  2. Elevate

  3. Ice

Keep the wrist above your heart and ice the area for 10-15 minutes every hour. This will help control the swelling and ease the pain.


If your wrist is simply sprained, the symptoms will start to ease after 48 hours. Dr. Joseph may recommend a bandage to compress the wrist as well as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil or Aleve, to help with pain and swelling.


However, a wrist fracture doesn’t automatically mean you’ll need surgery. Many broken wrists are able to be treated with casting or splinting. Some fractures do benefit from surgery, but that will depend on:

  • The type of fracture (is it open, unstable, or displaced)

  • Your overall health

  • Your lifestyle (hobbies, activity level, etc.)

  • Whether or not the fractured wrist is your dominant hand

The average recovery time for a broken wrist is about six weeks. Dr. Joseph and his team will explore the options that are best for you, your healing, and your recovery.


Contact Team Joseph About Your Wrist Pain


Don’t ignore a wrist injury, especially if you're unsure of its severity. If you have continuing pain, err on the side of caution and seek medical treatment.


Contact Dr. Joseph and his team today to find out how we can help.


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