Sprained Wrist vs. Broken Wrist

Hand of man who suffers from broken wrist


The hands and arms are vital for everyday movements. The hand’s complicated movements are controlled by the nerves, joints, ligaments, tendons, and bones of the fingers, wrists, and forearms.

The wrist, for instance, consists of small joints that connect the hand to the rest of the body. The wrist also plays a pivotal role in everyday activities. Because of the wear and tear of the joints and other parts, the wrist may suffer from overuse and injury.

There are many diseases that can affect the joints such as arthritis, degenerative diseases, inflammation, and infection. However, the most common cause of wrist pain is injury due to falls or a sudden blow to the wrist.

There are two things that can happen to the wrist after an accident, a sprained wrist or a fractured or broken wrist.

People use their hands for so much throughout the day that wrist pain can be very debilitating. When one falls onto an outstretched hand, it may cause injury to the bones and ligaments in the area. Understanding the difference between a sprained wrist and a broken wrist is important for the doctors to know which intervention to use.

Sprained Wrist

The cases of the sprained wrist are fairly rare in everyday life. Commonly, the cases stem from accidents at work or in sports activities.

A wrist sprain is a common injury for many athletes and other people. Falls are the usual causes of a sprained wrist because as you fall or slip, you automatically stick your hand out to break the fall. As a result, the force of impact may stretch the ligaments, leading to a sprain.

The severity of a sprained wrist depends on which part is affected:

Grade 1 – These are just mild sprains that happen when the ligaments are stretched, but they are not torn.

Grade 2 – Sprains that happen when the ligaments are partially torn. When there is grade 2 wrist sprain, there is some loss of function.

Grade 3 – These are severe sprains that happen when the ligament is completely torn.


The common signs and symptoms of wrist sprain depend on the location and intensity of the injury. These include:

  • Inflammation of the wrist
  • Pain at the time of the injury
  • Discoloration or bruising around the wrist
  • Persistent pain especially when moving the wrist
  • Tenderness
  • Warm feeling to the skin
  • A feeling of popping inside the area


The treatment of the condition entails the principle of RICE – rest, ice, compression and elevation. These are helpful in preventing inflammation and fastening the healing process.

Broken Wrist

A broken wrist or fracture wrist happens when there is a break or crack in one or more of the bones in the area. The most common cause of a wrist fracture is falling and trying to catch oneself, landing hard on an outstretched hand.


Signs and symptoms of a fracture in the bones in the wrist usually include tenderness, pain, and swelling. Wrist fractures may lead to the inability to grip and hold objects.

A fractured wrist or broken hand might cause these signs and symptoms:

  • Swelling or inflammation
  • Tenderness
  • Severe pain that might worsen when squeezing and gripping the hand
  • Bruising
  • Obvious deformities like a crooked finger or a bent wrist
  • Stiffness or the inability to move the fingers or the thumb
  • Hand or finger numbness


During a fall, it is important not to touch the broken bone. Visit a doctor immediately. If the bone ends of the bones are not aligned, or they were displaced, the doctor needs to manipulate the pieces back into their original position in a procedure called reduction. The doctor may put a cast to keep the bones in place and wait for the body’s natural healing process to fuse the bones back together.

Here are the common treatments for a fractured wrist:

Drugs – Medicines are prescribed the reduce pain and swelling. The doctor may recommend you to take over-the-counter pain medicines. Usually, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed because they target both inflammation and pain.

When there is an open fracture, the doctor may recommend taking antibiotics to prevent infection in the area and to prevent the bacteria from entering the bone.

Immobilization – Restricting the movement of the fractured bone is important to promote faster and proper healing. The doctor may apply a splint or a cast. You may need to put the hand above the heart level to reduce pain and inflammation.

Physical therapy – After the initial treatment of immobilization, after the cast is removed, the doctor may prescribe having physical therapy sessions. Physical therapy helps reduce pain, stiffness and restore the movement of the wrist and hand.

Surgery –  If placing a cast is not an option, the doctor might recommend having pins, plates, and rods to hold the bones together to promote healing. Implants are recommended if you have an open fracture, loose bone fragments, unstable or displaced fracture, damage to the ligaments in the area, damage to the blood vessels and nerves, and some fractures that extend into a joint.

Sprained wrist vs. Fractured wrist

The difference between a sprained wrist and a fractured wrist is easy to distinguish. With a sprained wrist, the ligament may be affected, but the bone is intact. This means that there are no broken bones.

On the other hand, a fractured or broken wrist is more painful and severe, since the bones are broken. There can be a crack in the bone, or an entire bone has been sliced. However, since bones heal themselves, many doctors can fix the fracture by casting and in some cases, surgery.