How is a sprained wrist diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about any previous injuries to your hand or wrist. He or she will want to know how and when your current injury occurred and will ask you to describe your symptoms, including whether you have any numbness in your hand or pain in any other locations.

Your doctor will then carefully look at your wrist to see where it hurts and to check how it moves. Tenderness in certain areas may also be consistent with a broken bone. He or she will then examine your entire hand and arm to make sure you don’t have any other injuries.

What tests can be used to diagnose a sprained wrist?

Your doctor may order imaging tests to help confirm the diagnosis.

  • X-rays. Although an x-ray will not show the ligaments themselves, it can suggest a ligament injury if the wrist bones do not line up correctly. An x-ray can also help your doctor rule out a broken bone in your wrist.
  • Other tests. If more information is needed, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or arthrogram may also be ordered. In an arthrogram, a special dye is injected into the wrist joint. This makes the joint and ligaments show up more clearly on an imaging study.

What are the different types of wrist sprains?

Sprains are graded, depending on the degree of injury to the ligaments:

  • Grade 1 sprain (mild). The ligaments are stretched, but not torn.
  • Grade 2 sprain (moderate). The ligaments are partially torn. This type of injury may involve some loss of function.
  • Grade 3 sprain (severe). The ligament is completely torn or the ligament is pulled off of its attachment to bone. These are significant injuries that require medical or surgical care. If the ligament tears away from the bone, it may take a small chip of bone with it. This is called an avulsion fracture.