There's sometimes a price to pay for weightlifting. Wrist sprains and strains can test your dedication to the sport. Fortunately, most weightlifting injuries resolve quickly, and you have a few options for self treatment.
In a six-year study of weightlifters, Calhoun and Fry found that most weightlifting injuries are due to overuse (too high training frequency or volume) and usually only require minimal absence from training (ref 1, pg 237). These strains and sprains can be treated with a few simple interventions which include protection, rest, ice, compression, elevation, and over-the-counter medications.
The PRICE of Initial Treatment
First-line treatment begins with PRICE, which is an acronym that represents a common set of initial treatment guidelines: Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate (ref 1, pg 453).
After you sprain your wrist, plan to rest and protect the joint from further injury for up to 10 to 14 days with a light immobilization brace (Practical Orthopedics, Pg 109). Cover the wrist with a wet towel and apply ice for 10-20 minutes followed by 20 minutes of no ice. You can repeated this cycle throughout the day, up to 48 hours post injury (Sports Medicine p455).
Compression and Elevation
Prefabricated wrist splints, elastic bandages, and sports tape all have their place (ref 2, p479). Initially, you can wrap an elastic bandage around your wrist and hand to provide compression. If the pain is still significant or waking you up at night, try a prefabricated wrist splint instead. While at rest, keep your wrist elevated above the level of your heart whenever possible to reduce swelling and pain (Ref 6).
Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) are a good starting point for treating pain and inflammation (ref 4). You can also take acetaminophen (Tylenol) for additional pain relief (ref 5). You may need to take these medications several times a day. Follow the dosing instructions on the medication package.
Wrist injuries that are initially caused by a fall onto an out-stretched hand, or pain that fails to improve within 2 weeks should be evaluated by a medical provider (ref 7, p9). Wrap compression bandages snugly, but not too tight. You don't want to cut off circulation. Never take any medications that you may be allergic to or that a medical provider has instructed you to avoid.