Sprains vs. Strains: What’s the Difference in Hand Injury?

Sprains and strains are two common types of hand injury. These terms are often used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different injuries. Usually, only the most severe cases require hand surgery. In either case, your hand and wrist should be evaluated by a hand doctor promptly to prevent a mis-diagnosis and ensure proper treatment.

What’s a Sprain?

A sprain is a tear or stretch in a ligament, or the fibers that connect your bones at the joints. Sprains typically happen when you fall, twist, or are hit in a way that forces the hand or wrist out of its normal position, such as falling and landing on an outstretched palm. Sometimes, you might feel a tear or pop when the injury happens.

What’s a Strain?

A strain refers to a muscle or tendon (tissue that connects the muscle to bone) that’s been twisted, pulled, or torn. Strains can appear suddenly or develop gradually, over days or weeks. Acute strains may occur when overstressing the muscles, lifting heavy objects the wrong way, or in contact sports, such as hockey, football, or boxing. Chronic strains happen more slowly in activities that involve repetitive motions, such as rowing, golf, or tennis.

How to Detect a Sprain or Strain?

Sprains and strains often look similar: pain, inflammation, and/or bruising in the harmed region. The pain may be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the severity of the injury. The more severe the sprain or strain, the harder it is to use that part of the hand or wrist.

Strains may also cause muscle spasms or weakness, cramping, and trouble moving the muscle; these symptoms typically do not appear with sprains.

How to Treat Sprains and Strains?

Sprain and strains are treated the same way. A hand specialist should evaluate the injury and oversee treatment and rehabilitation.

In general, for the first couple days, you can reduce swelling and pain with:

* Rest
* Ice packs for 20 minutes at a time, 4 to 8 times a day
* Compression with special bandages or casts
* Elevation of the hand and wrist on a pillow
* Over-the-counter medications, such as Advil

After that, exercise the injured area to build strength and prevent stiffness. Depending on the extent of your injury, you might need physical therapy.

Most sprains and strains of the hand and wrist are not serious injuries. Mild cases can be treated at home, but moderate and severe cases require medical attention from a qualified hand doctor.