How can you tell if your wrist is sprained or broken? Essentially, it goes without saying that if you suspect either a sprain or a break, you should see your doctor or visit the emergency room in order to obtain an effective diagnosis. Sprains and breaks are both painful, and both can cause damage to the structure of the wrist. Interestingly, though, patients who have experienced both often report that a sprain is the more painful of the two injuries. It is also interesting to note that breaks are often more easily treated, whereas sprains can sometimes be more devastating, and if not treated promptly an effectively, can lead to complications like arthritis later on.
If you are determined to self-diagnose, and wait for treatment, or if you are providing first aid to an injured person, you need to know how to determine the difference between a sprain and a fracture. You also need to remember that a sprain is not a minor injury. It can involve serious tears to the ligaments that hold the wrist bones together.
How Did the Injury Happen?
This is the first thing that you need to consider when attempting to answer the questions, “Is it a break or a sprain?” If someone uses their hand to break a short fall, it could be a break, but the smart money is on a sprain. On the other hand, if someone falls off a roof and lands on their hand, a break is more likely.
What Can You See?
If a bone is protruding through the skin, the diagnosis is obvious – it is a break. Additionally, if there appears to be a great deal of swelling or bruising, a break is likely. If the swelling and pain doesnt go away in a day or two, suspect a break, but if it goes away relatively quickly, suspect a sprain.
What Can You Hear?
If moving the wrist results in a grinding or crunching sound, accompanied by excruciating pain, it is almost certainly a break.
What Should You Do?
Immediately following the injury, you or the person you are treating should immediately stop moving the wrist. Elevate it and apply cold packs. If stopping movement seems to be problematic, apply a wrist splint.
Although a break will usually hurt for a long time, and a sprain will stop hurting in a few days, there are exceptions. One is a scaphoid bone fracture. The scaphoid is a small wrist bone that, if broken, could feel painful for a day or two and then stop hurting. In this way, it imitates a sprain, and can be easily misdiagnosed. If untreated, it can lead to arthritis. Additionally, if certain wrist ligaments are sprained, that can also lead to arthritis, because the bones that those ligaments were intended to hold together move abnormally. This can also cause arthritis.
The Final Word
Any wrist pain that has not gone away within 3-5 days after an injury should be checked out. You may need surgery.