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How do I Treat Wrist Swelling?

By Bethany Keene
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Wrist swelling can happen for a number of reasons, including injury, surgery, arthritis, or simple inflammation from repetitive motion. Keep in mind that it can be difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and a broken wrist, so if you have any doubts, it is best to have the wrist examined by a doctor. A doctor should also check the wrist if the pain and swelling persist or worsen over a few days. In general, the best methods for treating wrist swelling include rest, ice, and elevation.

To treat wrist swelling or pain on your own, it is best to take action as soon as the pain begins or the injury occurs. Most experts recommend applying an ice pack or ice bandage directly to the wrist, which should immediately begin reducing the swelling. The ice pack can be left on for approximately fifteen minutes, and then it is best to take a short break before applying the ice again. Never apply ice directly to the skin.

The other two most important steps to take are to rest and elevate the wrist. It may be best to place the wrist on a pillow and sit quietly for awhile, as this should help the swelling go down. To reduce the range of motion in the wrist, it may be necessary to wrap the wrist in a bandage or a small brace. This can help promote healing by reducing the chances of further injury. Taking a pain reliever is of course another option, but be sure to carefully follow dosage instructions and the advice of your doctor. For more severe injuries, a sling can be helpful by both reducing motion and elevating the arm.

If the wrist swelling and pain are persistent, it may be necessary to see a doctor. He or she may recommend other treatment options, including physical therapy. Physical therapy may be able to strengthen the wrist and improve range of motion, which will help with pain. Pain injections are another option for extreme pain. If nothing else seems to be working, surgery may be recommended, but it is generally a last resort.

To prevent wrist swelling in the first place, try to have an ergonomically correct work station, and take frequent breaks. Stretching the wrists out a few times throughout the day can prevent swelling from repetitive motions such as typing or clicking a mouse. Of course, not all injuries are preventable, but taking a few moments to get up from your desk or work area and stretch can make a big difference -- not just for your wrists, but for your whole body.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On Oct 24, 2013

@SarahGen-- I had a similar injury last week. I had swelling in my wrist, pain and tenderness. I put a cold pack on immediately and applied a topical pain reliever. I had a splint at home, so I put that on as well. I didn't use that hand for the rest of the week and it healed.

By burcinc — On Oct 23, 2013

@SarahGen-- Keep applying ice and keep your wrist elevated. If you keep it at or above your heart, this will prevent your wrist from swelling more.

Swelling is a sign of injury. It could be a sprain, but it could also be something more serious like a fracture or a dislocation. I think yours might be just a sprain because a fracture or a dislocation is usually extremely painful. You also cannot move your wrist at all in these situations and the swelling in the wrist will be very serious.

Keep your wrist immobilized for now, but it's a good idea to see a doctor for a physical examination and an x-ray. Especially if it's dislocated, it needs to be realigned within six hours. So you don't want to waste time.

By SarahGen — On Oct 23, 2013

I fell off my bike today and landed on my arm and wrist. My arm is fine, but my wrist has swollen a little bit. I have some hand and wrist pain, but it's not unbearable. I've been putting ice on it but it hasn't made much of a difference. What should I do?

I would see my doctor but I know he's out of town and I don't want to go to the emergency room if I don't have to.

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