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Is Your Wrist at Risk?

You don’t think about a wrist injury until it happens. We wear helmets to protect our heads, we step carefully to keep from rolling an ankle, but how often do you think about protecting your wrists? To better understand and help avoid sports-related wrist injuries, we spoke with Anuj Netto, MD, a hand surgeon with TOCA at Banner Health in Arizona.

How Risky is Your Favorite Sport?

“We see wrist injuries in almost any sport,” commented Dr. Netto. “Typically, the sport dictates the type of injury. For instance, golf, tennis and some of the other non-contact sports will present with overuse injuries whereas football, basketball, soccer and the other contact sports will often present with impact injuries.”

Without a doubt, contact sports produce more hospital visits – at least more urgent visits. Where there’s impact there’s injury. However, the frequency of overuse injuries is not to be ignored. It’s important to cross train and strengthen the areas around your joints that get the most use.

Common Sports-Related Wrist Injuries

“I typically separate wrist injuries into three categories when talking to patients,” said Dr. Netto. “These include injuries to muscles and tendons, bones, and joints. By far the most common injuries I see are to muscles and/or tendons.” Dr. Netto explained that these injuries are typically caused by overuse or overexertion.

1. Muscles and Tendons

These sorts of injures tend to result in inflammation, which often turns to tendinitis. In cases of tendinitis, Dr. Netto explained that patients will often feel pain at the base of their thumbs and wrist and have trouble holding small objects such as a pan, cup or pen.

2. Bones

Bone injuries almost always involve some kind of impact. Dr. Netto mentioned, “The most common of this type of injury is a wrist fracture, which typically occurs after a ground level fall on an outstretched hand. Loud noises or deformities usually make broken bones obvious. However, simple falls that result in fractures can be mistaken as a sprain.”

3. Joints

“Joint injuries almost always involve some kind of impact,” explained Dr. Netto. “Wrist sprains are the most common wrist joint injury, and in most cases, they are not serious.” A wrist sprain occurs when a ligament is stretched or torn, resulting in instability in the wrist.

How to Prevent

“Flexibility and resistance training can often help prevent injury,” Dr. Netto advised. “As it relates to the wrist specifically, passive stretch and hold exercises can not only increase flexibility but also help prevent muscle and tendon injuries. In terms of resistance training, it’s not about how much resistance one is able to perform but rather the endurance and number of reps someone is able to achieve. Lastly, as a general rule, wrist guards, gloves, and/or athletic tape should be used to help reinforce and support the wrist in contact sports such as skateboarding, skiing, football, hockey, etc.”

How to Heal

Muscle and tendon injuries often require rest, activity modification, anti-inflammatories and likely bracing. Usually, these injuries will get better in time, but repeat injuries can create chronic issues that may require surgery to heal. In most cases, you will need to shut down activity for about six weeks with a slow progression back to normal activity with the assistance of a hand therapist.

In cases of broken bones and fractures, Dr. Netto mentioned a typical 6-week period where the wrist is immobilized in a brace or cast. After that, a 12-week therapy program will help the joint return to full function.

Joint sprains tend to get better on their own. While pain and soreness will typically persist for about two weeks, the joint will usually begin to feel back to normal after six weeks. Proper bracing and therapy are key in making this timeline possible. “Wrist dislocation can be more severe,” said Dr. Netto. “They often involve high energy trauma and require immediate attention in an emergency department. Once the joint is popped back into place, pain will dissipate dramatically, but there is still a lot to be done. If surgery is necessary, it may be at least another three months before full range of motion is recovered.”

Get Back to the Fun

If you live for your favorite sport, then you know that waiting to heal can feel like an eternity. If you have suffered a sports-related wrist injury, schedule an appointment with a Banner Health expert to help determine the best treatment options for a speedy recovery. Visit bannerhealth.com to learn more.

Fitness Orthopedics Sports Medicine