How to treat your injured wrist

Following injury, your wrist may be swollen, bruised and painful due to the overstretching of the soft tissues such as ligaments, tendons or muscles. This is often called a sprain and it is a common injury. In order to help the natural healing process, follow the advice below.

During the first 24-72 hours

  • It is important to rest and elevate the wrist as much as possible to prevent further swelling. Rest with the arm elevated on pillows, ideally with your wrist above the level of your heart.
  • Use over the counter pain killers as needed.
  • To relieve the pain and swelling, apply a packet of frozen peas or crushed ice in a damp tea towel to the painful area. For maximum effect, apply for up to 20 minutes, every 2 hours. Cold can burn, so remove if uncomfortable.
  • You may have been provided with a splint. This can be worn to support the wrist while the ligaments are healing and enable you to use the arm more comfortably. It can be removed when resting, washing or at night.
  • Check that your shoulder, elbow and fingers/thumb are moving fully.
  • Once the pain and swelling begin to ease, start gently moving the wrist and hand to prevent stiffness. Move into discomfort but not pain.

After 3 days

If you have not already started to move your wrist, then it is now essential that you do so to prevent future stiffness.

Exercise 1

  • Sitting, grasp your injured arm well above the wrist so that your palm is face down towards the floor. Slowly move the hand up as far as possible, then stretch down as far as possible.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Exercise 2

  • In the same position as above, move the hand towards the thumb side of the wrist and then towards the little finger side.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Exercise 3

  • Combine the above movements and move the wrist in as large a circle as possible.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Exercise 4

  • Tuck your elbow into your side, turn your palm up and then down. Move as far as possible in each direction.
  • Repeat 10 times.

For the hand

Exercise 5

  • Make a tight fist with your fingers and then stretch the fingers out as far as possible.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Exercise 6

  • With your palm facing upwards, stretch your thumb across toward the base of the little finger. Then stretch out to the side as far as possible.
  • Repeat 10 times.

Exercise 7

  • Continue moving the thumb around in circles, stretching as far as possible.
  • Repeat 10 times.

As each day goes by, you should be able to move the wrist more freely and with lessening discomfort. The amount of movement should eventually be the same as that on your unaffected side. Start returning to light activities, steadily building up the daily use and progressing to more demanding activities. It may be some weeks before full strength returns. Depending on how badly your wrist is sprained, it may take between 4 - 12 weeks to recover, sometimes longer.

For those returning to sport

This should not be resumed until the wrist is free of pain, supple and strong. For those sports that directly involve the wrist, it is important to ‘warm up’ first (exercises 1 - 7 may be used). Then gradually build up sporting activity and strength.

The injury may take longer to heal if you suffer from diabetes or if you smoke.

For advice on stopping smoking please visit or discuss this with your GP.

If you are concerned about your progress, contact your GP.

© North Bristol NHS Trust. This edition published April 2024. Review due April 2027. NBT002263

How to treat your injured wrist

Contact Emergency Department (ED)

Gate 35, Level 0
Brunel building
Southmead Hospital
Southmead Road
BS10 5NB

Emergency Department Main Reception Gate 35: 0117 4145100 or 0117 4145101