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Wrist strains in sports: Common causes, symptoms and treatment of wrist strains

Wrist strains are common in sports activities. Wrist strains can happen when muscles or tendons surrounding your wrist become inflamed from overstretching or overuse. Because your wrist moves in many directions, the muscles from your wrist or tendons passing over your wrist are at risk of either overstretching, which may cause tendon tears, or repetitive use injuries.

Common causes of wrist strains

Wrist strains can happen when any of the muscles or tendons surrounding your wrist is stretched beyond its limit or tears. In some cases, the condition can be caused by repetitive movements of the wrist causing the surrounding tissues (muscles, tendons) to become inflamed and swollen.

In sports, the most common cause of a wrist strain is falling on an outstretched hand (FOOSH injury) or wrongly landing on your hand when you fall. Sometimes, twisting of the wrist may also cause the condition. Athletes at risk for wrist strains may include those who play in basketball, football, ice hockey, wrestling, inline skating, skiing and other competitive board sports like skateboarding or snowboarding.

Severity of wrist strains

Severity of wrist strains depend on the structures involved and whether tearing of the tissue occurs or not. Strains can be grade I, II, or III. In grade I (mild) wrist strain, the muscle or tendon is stretched beyond its limit with very minimal or no tearing of muscle or tendon fibers. A grade II or moderate strain occurs when your muscle / tendon is overstretched causing partial (incomplete) tearing of the fibers.

The most severe wrist strain is a grade III strain wherein the muscle or tendon is completely torn or ruptured.


The symptoms that you may experience vary depending on the severity of your injury. The most common sign, however, is pain over the site of your injury. Your wrist may become swollen and moving your wrist becomes difficult. Severe cases of wrist strains can cause you to have extreme pain and swelling. Sometimes, you may feel that the muscles moving your hand and fingers become weak causing you to have difficulty grasping objects. Bruising or discoloration on the site of your injury may also occur.

The symptoms of wrist strains may be similar to that of a wrist sprain or fracture. You should consult your health care provider for proper diagnosis and prompt treatment if you are unsure of the severity of your injury or you experience any of the following:

  • Sudden numbness or tingling sensation
  • Severe pain or swelling
  • Unusual bulge at the site of injury
  • Sudden bruising or locking your injured wrist
  • Your injury does not seem to be healing as expected

Treatments for wrist strains

Mild or minor wrist strains can be effectively treated with proper rest, ice application, compression and elevation (RICE therapy). If possible, do not continue with your sports as there is danger of you further injuring your muscle or tendon. Rest and immediately apply ice on you injury for about 20 minutes, every 3 to 4 hours during the first 24 to 48 hours following your injury or until your swelling and pain subsides. Avoid direct contact between the ice pack and your skin. Wrap the pack with towel before applying.

Wrap your injured wrist with a compression bandage to minimize swelling. If you are unsure of how to properly apply the bandage ask a trained professional to do it for you.

While resting, elevate your injured limb above the level of your heart to help reduce swelling. Taking pain medications may also help relieve your pain and inflammation.

Moderate and severe strains should be looked at by your doctor to ensure that your symptoms are not from a broken bone. Treatments may include RICE therapy, medications, immobilization for a short period, and physical therapy. Your doctor may also consider surgery to repair your severely damaged tendon or muscle.

Rehabilitation can follow when your symptoms have already subsided to improve your joint range of motion and wrist muscle strength. The type of rehabilitation program that you receive will be determined by your doctor or physical therapist depending on the severity of your injury and your previous levels of activity or sports.


Sprains and Strains. Website, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)

Flexor Tendon Injuries. Website, American Society for Surgery of the Hand (ASSH)

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