A sprained wrist is a common fall-related injury, since when most people fall, they instinctively extend their hand and land with their weight on the wrist. Taking the right steps to heal a sprained wrist can be challenging, since the wrist needs to rest and be protected as it heals. To heal a sprained wrist as quickly as possible, follow the PRICE principle for sprains -- protect, rest, ice, compress and elevate. PRICE can facilitate healing and get you back to your normal activities as soon as possible.
Step 1: See Your Doctor
Visit your doctor to have the sprain examined. Wrist sprains are usually broken into 3 grades: mild, moderate and severe. Mild sprains may only need home treatment, while more severe strains are due to torn ligaments and may require medical or surgical care. Your doctor can guide you on individualized home care steps, although they will likely include the following PRICE steps.
Step 2: Protect and Rest
Take steps to protect your wrist from further injury. Apply a wrist splint or gentle wrap for a week or more to immobilize the wrist. Also, give your wrist the rest it needs. If your sprain is the result of a sports injury, stop playing the sport for at least for a few weeks while your wrist heals. Take steps at work or school to modify your movement to protect your wrist. Overworking your wrist when it's not fully healed could result in further injury and lead to permanent damage.
Step 3: Ice
Swelling and pain can be minimized if ice is applied regularly in the first 24 to 48 hours after injury. Use a gel ice pack with a cover, or fill a small plastic bag with crushed ice. Frozen vegetables also make good ice packs since they form around the wrist. To protect your skin from frostbite, place a cloth or towel between the ice and your skin. For optimal healing, apply ice 15 to 20 minutes at a time, at least several times daily, resting in between applications.
Step 4: Compress
Wear a elastic compression bandage for at least a few days after injury or as needed to help minimize swelling. Your doctor may give you this bandage in your initial visit, but these bandages can also be purchased over-the-counter from drug stores, sporting goods stores and medical supply stores.
Step 5: Elevate
As often as possible, elevate your wrist above your heart. This is most effective in the first few days after injury, and helps reduce swelling so you have better wrist mobility. This may entail propping your wrist up with pillows when you sleep or as you sit in a chair.
Step 6: Manage Pain
Over-the-counter pain medications can provide relief, if needed. If you have any medical conditions or if you take prescription medications, ask your doctor which pain relief medicine is right for you.
Things You'll Need
Wrist splint or wrap
Ice pack with towel or cloth
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
Be patient with recovery, as healing can sometimes take several weeks. Rest and wear a splint as needed until symptoms improve, to optimize healing and recovery. Follow your doctor's rehabilitation instructions for best results.
If your swelling persists more than 48 hours, or if your pain is getting worse, follow up with your doctor. Proper diagnosis and early treatment of wrist injuries is important to avoid long-term complications, including pain, stiffness, limited mobility and arthritis.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD