Initially your doctor will examine your wrist to see where it hurts and to check how it moves. X-rays are taken to make sure there are no broken bones or dislocated joints (see Figure 3). Occasionally other studies, such as Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), may be performed.
Treatment may range from wearing a splint or cast to surgery. Surgery may consist of arthroscopic (with an internal camera) or open surgery. Arthroscopic surgery is performed through small (3-4 millimeter) incisions in the skin. A camera and other special instruments are placed inside the wrist to confirm the diagnosis and potentially treat the ligament injury. Some injuries require open surgery, where an incision is made to repair the ligament. A variety of repair methods exist, which could include metal pins, screws, and other specialized devices. Patients are usually placed in a splint or cast that may need to remain on for several weeks after surgery. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment.
The term “chronic” refers to an old injury of greater than several months to years. If there is no or minimal cartilage damage, the ligament may be reconstructed. If there is moderate to severe cartilage damage (arthritis), symptoms may include pain, stiffness, and swelling. Chronic injuries may first be treated with splinting and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines, and later with cortisone injections. If these treatments fail, surgery may be an option. Various types of procedures are possible, including a partial wrist fusion, removal of arthritic bones (“proximal row carpectomy”), wrist replacement, or complete wrist fusion. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment.
Occasionally fractures occur along with this type of sprain.These may require additional procedures to repair the fracture with metal pins, screws, or plates. Cartilage damage may also be present, which does not show up on the x-ray.
The optimum treatment for these injuries is not always clear. There is much research underway searching for better methods to treat these serious injuries.They include stronger and more precise ligament reconstructions using either local tissues (tendons) or distant tissues (ligaments from the hand or foot).
Despite optimal treatment, these sprains occasionally result in residual long term pain, stiffness, and swelling. The wrist is a complex group of bones, cartilage, and ligaments that are in a delicate balance for precise movements. Injury can upset this balance and damage previously well-tuned moving parts.
© 2013 American Society for Surgery of the Hand