Medical questions & health advice by board certified doctors
"Is my wrist broken or sprained?"
i hurt my wrist and need to determine if its broken or sprained. It is very very painful.
It is actually not unheard of for patients to have broken their wrist, and I recommend you consult your physician. To be clear, when people refer to a broken wrist, they usually refer to a fracture (same as a 'break') of one or both of the long bones comprising the forearm: the radius or ulna. The 'wrist', however, is composed of 8 additional bones known as carpal bones that are about the size of small marbles, and essentially connect the forearm to the hand. In other words, a broken wrist can, generally speaking, refer to a fracture of the 8 carpal bones, the distal (end) radius/ulna or some combination of these bones. A wrist sprain, on the other hand, refers to a stress injury of any of the numerous ligaments and tendons that stabilize the wrist. Sprains often symptomatically improve with rest and ice, and usually do not require surgery. Usually, sprains are associated with very localized tenderness. That is, a sprained wrist usually hurts at discrete spot(s), and will be painful when you move the wrist. A wrist sprain should not hurt if you squeeze other parts of your arm like your hand or further up your forearm. On the other hand, a fractured wrist can often hurt when you squeeze further along the forearm, or even up to your elbow (depending on the severity). While both sprains and breaks can result in mild to moderate swelling, usually only breaks/fractures can result in deformity. In the case of carpal bone fractures, deformity is less likely, but can be represented by persistent pain out of proportion to the appearance of the wrist. If you notice deformity or persistent pain out of proportion to wrist appearance, please consult your physician for referral to an orthopedic surgeon.
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