Is Your Wrist Sprained or Broken? How to Tell the Difference 

Oct 02, 2023
Is Your Wrist Sprained or Broken? How to Tell the Difference 
Your wrists and hands are among the most used parts of your body; they help you interact with the world in a vast number of ways. So if you get an injury there, how do you know if your wrists are sprained or broken?

Our hands are one of the most amazing evolutionary tools we have to interact with the world, and we use them for a lot more than you think. The four fingers and opposable thumb, the overall flexibility, being able to turn it 180 degrees, ball it into a fist… Our hands are very nearly an independent sensory organ. 

We can use our hands to detect uneven surfaces, feel the temperature of water, communicate with other people (not even including the invention of sign language), and manipulate objects we aren’t even looking at.

Our wrists play a vital role in how our hands perform those complex and delicate tasks. The wrist is a joint made up of eight bones in two rows, the proximal and distal. These sets of bones are located on opposite sides of the hand, all of which form a joint with your radius, the longest bone in your forearm. 

Wrist injuries are common, and because of how much we depend on them, determining whether you’re dealing with a sprained or broken wrist can make all the difference in how thoroughly and quickly they are treated.

Whether you think you have a sprained or broken wrist, Dr. Joseph Daniels and his team at Southwest Orthopedic Associates in Fort Worth, Texas can help. 

Now, let’s help you determine what kind of wrist injury you’re dealing with by examining the common causes of these injuries, and what signs a broken or sprained wrist will have.

Common causes of sprained and broken wrists

The tricky part of determining whether you have one type of injury or the other is the fact that both are caused by similar events, including traumas like car accidents or other impact injuries, sports injuries, or falls. 

Other factors can separate the two conditions, however, as wrist sprains can also be caused by infections and some types of arthritis, while broken wrists have a greater risk from physical activity and contact sports.

Signs of a sprained wrist vs. a broken one

A sprain is the stretching and possible tearing of ligaments, and in the case of your wrist, it can show symptoms like swelling, pain, warmth and tenderness in the injured area, a sensation of popping and tearing in the wrist, weakness, bruising, and limited motion. 


Wrist sprains can also come in different grades of severity, ranging from minor ligament damage (Grade I) to severe looseness, loss of function, and a complete ligament tear (Grade III).


A broken wrist can have many of the same signs, but can also have pain that worsens when gripping objects or moving your wrists, and you may see a bend or protrusion under the skin. The primary differences can be in the severity, as minor sprains will certainly hurt less than a break in the wrist; but if both are severe, it will likely take an X-ray or other type or imaging to determine which is which.

Both types of injuries can show very similar signs, so outside of severe signs like protrusions, diagnostic imaging might be the best way to figure out what you’re dealing with. Regardless of which type of wrist problem you’re experiencing, make an appointment with Dr. Daniels and his team at Southwest Orthopedic Associates today to get the help you need.