The wrist is one of the most flexible joints of the body. The flexibility of this joint is due to the ligaments present there. The wrist joint structure is composed of eight small bones known as carpal bones. All these bones are connected to each other by the ligaments. Thus, the ligaments play a major role in balancing the bones during wrist movements. Wrist ligament injuries are quite common in athletes. However, that does not mean that non-athletes do not suffer from them.
Wrist ligament injuries most commonly occur due to a bad fall. When we fall down, we have a natural tendency to outstretch the hands to prevent the fall. When you fall on the hand, the sudden thrust on the wrist joint injures the ligaments. It may also happen when the wrist gets badly hit against a hard surface during automobile accidents. Repetitive use of the joint is another cause of ligament injury to the wrist. When there is a repetitive motion of the joint, then it puts an additional amount of pressure on the ligaments and they suffer injury.
The ligament tissues are made of strong fibers. When they get injured, then tears develop on them. Like any other form of localized injury, ligament injury causes wrist pain and swelling. Most of the time, this pain is not just confined to the wrist area but gets extended to the hands and forearm as well. If it is a minor form of injury, then you feel the pain as you move the joint while performing various activities. However, if it is a serious injury, then the pain will continue to bother you even when you are at rest.
Too much of swelling affects the range of motion of the wrist joint as the joint stiffens up. Bruise marks appear on the skin surface near the wrist joint soon after the injury due to internal bleeding. This results in skin discoloration. Due to ligament injury, the bones move abnormally during wrist movements. This produces a clicking sound when you try to move the wrist joint.
Diagnosis starts with thorough physical examination of the affected wrist. The physical activities, lifestyle and medical history of the patients are also taken into account to determine the cause of the injury. Then the level of injury is ascertained with the help of X-rays and MRI scan. Some cases may require an arthrogram test where a dye is injected into the wrist and is followed by examination with special X-rays. The leakage of the dye in the wrist joint shows the location and severity of the torn ligament.
Initially, it is treated with non surgical methods of treatment. All such activities involving the wrist joint that aggravate the pain should be avoided and it should be provided with adequate amount of rest. When the injured ligaments are healing, then pain is controlled with the help of pain relieving medicines. Oral anti-inflammatory medicines are widely used for reducing the pain and swelling of the wrist. Ice application is a natural way of treating injury related pain. In a severe form of injury, the pain becomes unbearable and steroid injections are administered into the wrist joint.
An unstable wrist joint is stabilized with the help of a splint or cast which the patients have to wear for 3-6 weeks. Modification of activities are suggested to them in order to minimize unwanted pressure on the wrist joint. If the injury has caused substantial damage to the ligament, then it has to be repaired with the help of surgery. Post surgery, the operated wrist is covered up with padded dressing and splint to give support to the joint.
For proper wrist ligament injury recovery, physical therapy is a must. The physical therapist will suggest stretching exercises to increase strength and flexibility of the joint. In patients who have undergone surgery, pain and swelling are first managed with massage therapy. Later on, they are given suitable exercises for improving joint stability and movements.
The recovery time for wrist ligament injury is different for every individual. Usually, it varies anywhere between 3-8 weeks. Those who are treated with non surgical methods can resume normal activities after 3-4 weeks. On the other hand, the healing time for a wrist ligament surgery is longer and the patient can return to performing his/her daily activities only after 8 weeks.