Damage to the wrist sends many people to their doctors complaining of pain; in some cases, it comes on suddenly due to a traumatic injury, but it can also be a sign of long-term wear and tear.
Wrist sprains are one of the most common wrist injuries: a network of ligaments, sturdy bands of tissue that connect and attach one bone to another, run through our hands and wrists. When one or more of these is damaged – usually torn or stretched during a fall or when the wrist is twisted or bent too far – it results in a painful sprain. Swelling, bruising, warmth to the touch, and painful or difficult movement are all symptoms; you may also feel a popping sensation in your wrist when the sprain occurs. A mild to moderate sprain (in which the ligament is stretched or partially torn) is usually treated with rest, icing and immobilization with a splint. A severe strain may require surgery. All should be examined by a doctor to rule out more serious injury.
The wrist is also prone to fractures, small breaks in the bone; these can occur to one or more of the many bones in the area. Fractures often occur during a fall or some other forceful impact. One type, a scaphoid fracture, occurs in the bone near the thumb, and in some cases does not appear on an x-ray, making it harder to diagnose; sometimes, a severe sprain causes an avulsion fracture, when the ligament takes a slice of bone with it as it is torn away. Fractures can lead to long-term injury, pain, and loss of movement if not treated professionally, so it’s important to see a doctor if you have one, or even if you think you just have a bad sprain.
Repetitive injury can be another source of wrist pain: tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome are two common kinds. Tendonitis occurs when tendons become inflamed due to repeated motion – it often happens to athletes or workers who rotate or swing their wrist a certain way many times (golf, tennis, lifting, etc). Carpal tunnel is the result of pressure on the median nerve that runs through the wrist, causing swelling and pain. Pain medication, icing, rest, and posture modification can all be used to treat these issues, although in some cases they may need medical attention; severe carpal tunnel syndrome may require surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve.