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Common wrist injuries and conditions

Diagnosis of common wrist injuries and conditions

Your doctor will discuss your history to learn of any injuries, such as falls or sports injuries. Your doctor will also conduct a physical examination to test your flexibility and range of motion and look for signs of trauma such as swelling, bruising, deformity, or heat. He or she will examine things like grip strength, sensation, and reflexes in your wrist and fingers.

If you fell or had another trauma that could have injured your wrist, your doctor may also perform a wrist stability test by pressing firmly on bones such as the scaphoid and lunate. Grinding sounds, instability, excess flexibility of ligaments such as the lunotriquetral ligament, or weakness during this test can all indicate fractures.

Most wrist injuries to the bones or soft tissues are diagnosed using x-rays, ultrasounds, MRIs, or other imaging scans to allow your doctor to visualize the bones, connective tissues, and joint spaces.

In some cases, such as if scans do not reveal injury or your symptoms worsen over time instead of improving, your doctor may also order blood testing or test your joint fluid. Wrist arthroscopy is another type of diagnostic test in which a tiny camera is inserted into the wrist, allowing your doctor to view your ligaments, bones, and joint spaces up close.


Your specific wrist condition or injury will determine your treatment options. Many minor wrist problems respond to home treatment. This includes RICE (rest, ice, compression, and elevation) and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication.

Depending on the cause of your wrist condition and its severity, your doctor may also recommend splints, wrist supports, physical therapy, or corticosteroid injections.

In rare cases, surgery is necessary to treat wrist conditions and injuries.

Dignity Health provides complete care for wrist conditions and injuries as part of our orthopedic services.

How to tell if a wrist injury needs treatment

After a fall or other wrist injury, it can be difficult to distinguish a sprain from a break. Some sprains are very painful, while some fractures only cause mild pain.

The symptoms of a broken wrist are similar to those of wrist sprain and may include:

  • Swelling around the joint
  • Discoloration or bruising
  • Weakness or complete inability to grab and hold objects
  • Pain when moving the hand

The best way to determine whether a fracture has occurred is to visit your doctor. An x-ray or other scan is often the only way to tell the difference. Many sprains also require treatment for a full recovery.

When in doubt, ask your Dignity Health doctor whether your wrist requires further examination. Always to seek a doctor’s advice if:

  • You notice any deformity in the wrist, arm, or hand
  • There is severe bruising on or around the wrist
  • You cannot grip an object or have a loss of range of motion
  • You have any numbness or tingling in your fingertips
  • Your symptoms do not diminish after 48 hours of rest, ice, elevation above the level of the heart, and immobilization

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.