Wrist injuries

At a glance

  • Many wrist injuries happen during a fall or while exercising.
  • Sprains get better within a few weeks.
  • Fractures and torn ligaments take longer to heal.
  • The joint can be kept still with the help of a bandage, splint or plaster cast.
  • Surgery is only rarely needed.


Photo of a child falling

If you trip and fall, it’s natural to automatically put out your hands to break the fall. This can sometimes lead to a wrist injury. Although wrist injuries are painful, they often get better within a few weeks. Sometimes the wrist has to be kept still for a longer time. Wrist injuries are rarely so bad that surgery is needed.

There are various kinds of wrist injuries:

  • Sprains: This is where the wrist is stretched or bent so much that the ligaments are overstrained.
  • Torn ligament: A ligament in the wrist tears partially or completely.
  • Dislocation: This is where a bone slips out of a joint. Muscles, ligaments and the joint capsule may become damaged as a result.
  • Bone fracture: Several bones in the wrist can break, including the radius, ulna, the carpal bones (e.g. the scaphoid and lunate bones) or the metacarpal bones. Depending on the type of fracture, it can also damage ligaments, nerves and certain parts of the joint.

The more the hand is overstretched or bent, the more likely it is to result in ligament injuries or a fracture.

Illustration: Sprained wrist


Wrist injuries can be very painful. Fractures and dislocations can often clearly be seen from the outside and hurt more than sprains do. Swelling and bruising are common too. If nerves are injured, the feeling in your hand might be affected – for instance, your fingers might feel numb or tingle. It is important to see a doctor soon if you have abnormal sensations, severe pain and a visible deformity. If you can no longer move the hand at all, it’s an emergency and you should go straight to a hospital.

Illustration: Healthy wrist and dislocated wrist
Illustration: Torn ligament in the wrist
Illustration: Wrist fracture

Ligament injuries might not hurt that much at first, but longer-lasting symptoms may develop. Wrist joint instability caused by torn ligaments often only becomes noticeable after a few weeks. Your wrist may then suddenly give way and fall to one side when you put pressure on it.

Causes and risk factors

Wrist injuries often occur when people put out their hand to break a fall. If the wrist joint is overstretched or bent too far as a result, the joint capsule, ligaments and bones may become damaged. These injuries often happen during sports activities. Many older people are prone to falls in everyday life too.

Sprains can occur as a result of sudden movements as well, for instance when throwing a ball or swinging a tennis racket.

People who have osteoporosis are generally more likely to break bones, so they’re also more likely to injure their wrist if they fall. Women over the age of 50 have a higher risk of broken bones than do men in the same age group.

Wrist injuries are common in children too because their bones, ligaments and joints haven't stopped developing yet. But injuries usually heal well in children.

Outlook and effects

Mild sprains get better within 2 to 3 weeks and don't have any long-term consequences. It can take up to six months for a torn ligament or fracture to heal completely, though. These more severe injuries can also result in chronic joint instability or osteoarthritis, or permanently affect your ability to move your wrist and hand.


The doctor examines the hand to find out how well you can move it, whether there is any swelling, and where exactly it hurts. This hand examination is often enough to diagnose mild sprains. But an x-ray may be needed as well. If it is thought that the wrist might be dislocated or fractured, or that a ligament is torn, further imaging techniques (e.g. CT or MRI scans) may be considered.


Right after injuring the wrist, it's important to stop moving the joint as soon as possible and then rest it. Keeping it raised (elevated) can help to limit the swelling. Depending on the type of injury, a firm elasticated bandage (tape), splint or plaster cast can be used. Pain can be treated with creams or tablets (such as acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol). If you take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) painkiller over a long period of time, it can be a good idea to take medication to protect your stomach too.

Whether you need to keep your hand still (immobilize it) – and for how long – will depend on the type of injury and the healing process. A doctor can make that decision. Sometimes there's no need to keep it still at all. If the wrist is sprained, a few days is often enough. People who have torn a ligament or fractured a bone need to keep their hand still for several weeks, though, to allow the injury to heal.

If the wrist is dislocated, the bones are moved back into the correct position under local or general anesthesia, depending on how severe the injury is. Surgery is considered if, for instance, bones need to be put back into the correct position after a fracture, if a ligament is completely torn, or if there is nerve damage. Depending on the type of surgery, the wrist joint is immobilized for a few weeks after the operation. But you don't always need to keep the wrist still afterwards, and it's generally best to start moving it again as soon as possible. Sometimes people are allowed to move their hand again immediately after wrist surgery.

Physical therapy and occupational therapy can help the healing process along after a wrist injury. Certain exercises can improve your ability to move the hand and strengthen the muscles.

Good to know:

Sometimes the treatment for wrist injuries is different in children than in adults. So – depending on the type of injury – it can be a good idea for children to see a doctor who has specialized in pediatric surgery.

Avery DM, Rodner CM, Edgar CM. Sports-related wrist and hand injuries: a review. J Orthop Surg Res 2016; 11(1): 99.

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Orthopädie und Unfallchirurgie (DGOU). S2e-Leitlinie Distale Radiusfraktur. AWMF-Registernr.: 187-019. 2021.

Karantana A, Handoll HH, Sabouni A. Percutaneous pinning for treating distal radial fractures in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2020; (2): CD006080.

Niethard FU, Biberthaler P, Pfeil J. Duale Reihe Orthopädie und Unfallchirurgie. Stuttgart: Thieme; 2022.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. informedhealth.org can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Updated on January 2, 2024

Next planned update: 2027


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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