Wrist Ligament Injury

What is a Wrist Ligament Injury?

The wrist ligaments connect the eight small wrist (carpal) bones to one another and to the bones of the forearm and hand. There are two rows of carpal bones in the wrist-- the “proximal” and the “distal” rows. The proximal row of carpal bones connects the wrist to the bones of the forearm, called the ulna and the radius. The distal row of carpals attach to the long bones of the hand, known as the metacarpals. Working together, the carpals allow the hand a wide range of movement, such as waving up and down, or from side to side.

A wrist ligament injury may also be referred to as a wrist sprain. However, not all wrist injuries are the same. Minor wrist sprains usually involve minor damage, such as stretching of the ligament, and do not require invasive treatments to treat. A wrist sprain may be considered moderate if it results in partial tearing of the wrist ligament, presenting significant discomfort compared to a minor sprain. When a wrist injury results in an entirely torn ligament and a significant loss of wrist function, more serious treatment methods may be needed. 

When they are injured, usually due to a fall on an outstretched hand, any of the following symptoms may occur:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Bruising
  • Weakness

What Causes Wrist Ligament Injuries?

A wrist ligament injury can typically occur when a person falls on or twists their wrist. Wrist sprains frequently appear in athletes who play sports like baseball, basketball, gymnastics, and skating. These injuries can also occur as a result of intense, repetitive use, or as a secondary symptom from an inflammatory disorder.

How are Wrist Ligament Injuries Diagnosed?

Wrist injuries are usually diagnosed with a physical exam. If needed, Doctor Donnelly may order an imaging test, such as an X-ray, an MRI, or an arthrogram to examine the inside of the wrist for damaged structures.

Treatment Options

While a wrist ligament injury may heal on its own, some may require intervention by a hand specialist to heal properly. Dr. Donnelly will suggest a treatment method based on the severity of the injury.

Non Surgical Wrist Ligament Injury Treatment

Minor wrist sprains may be treated through a combination of:
  • Rest
  • An ice compress
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
Moderate sprains with partial ligament tearing may require monitoring by a physician to heal properly. These sprains are usually aided by the above treatments, as well as:
  • A splint or cast
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises

Surgical Treatment Options

More severe sprains of the wrist may require surgery to heal. Surgery involves reattaching the injured ligament to the bone, or reconstructing a new ligament (as seen with ACL surgery in the knee). Wrist arthroscopy is a minimally-invasive surgical method for the treatment of severe wrist sprains that allows direct visualization of the injured structures, and often time repair. In this procedure, a small incision is made to allow a 1.9mm scope camera to view the wrist bones. The carpals are then pinned in place while the ligament heals. These pins are usually removed after eight weeks. Sometimes, combination scope and open procedures are required for a successful repair or reconstruction.

Recovery Time

Wrist ligament injuries that are treated non-surgically usually heal within two to four weeks. However it is not uncommon to stay sore for several weeks after the ligament is “healed.” More serious injuries that require surgery may take up to six to twelve months to fully recover. Depending on the severity of injury/surgery, Dr. Donnelly may recommend physical therapy to facilitate proper healing and movement in the wrist.