Is Ice or Heat Better for a Sprained Wrist?

Although a sprained wrist is a common injury, you should never underestimate it or leave it untreated. Neglecting proper treatment and care for a sprained wrist can have significant consequences for both your short-term recovery and long-term wrist health. Whether it’s a result of a fall, sports activity, or accident, a sprained wrist that’s left unattended can lead to lingering pain, reduced functionality, and even potential complications down the line.

In this article, we delve into the reasons why it’s crucial to treat a sprained wrist properly. We explore the benefits of early intervention, the potential risks of neglecting proper care, and the various treatment options available to aid in a speedy recovery, including treatment at The Hand and Wrist Institute’s state-of-the-art facilities in Dallas, Texas.

What Is a Sprained Wrist and What Causes It?

A sprained wrist occurs when you stretch or tear your wrist ligaments due to a sudden force or excessive bending or twisting of your wrist. Ligaments are tough bands of tissue that connect bones to each other, providing stability and support to the joints. Sprained wrists are commonly caused by the following activities or incidents:

Common Symptoms

Common symptoms of a sprained wrist may include:

Why Is It Important To Treat a Sprained Wrist Properly?

Here’s why it’s essential to give a sprained wrist the attention and care it requires:

Promoting Proper Healing

Appropriate treatment facilitates the healing process and promotes optimal recovery. By following the recommended treatment protocols, such as rest, immobilization, and rehabilitation exercises, you allow the injured ligaments in the wrist to repair themselves effectively. Ignoring or neglecting the injury can lead to delayed healing and potentially result in long-term complications.

Preventing Chronic Pain

A sprained wrist that’s not treated properly may lead to chronic pain or discomfort. When the ligaments don’t heal correctly or become weakened, it can cause ongoing pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Proper treatment can help minimize the risk of persistent pain and ensure the wrist returns to its full functional capacity.

Restoring Functionality

Treating a sprained wrist promptly and effectively increases the chances of regaining full functionality in the wrist joint. Physical therapy exercises and rehabilitation techniques help restore strength, flexibility, and coordination. Neglecting proper treatment may cause long-term limitations, hindering daily activities, sports performance, or work-related tasks that require a healthy wrist.

Minimizing the Risk of Complications

Without appropriate care, a sprained wrist may be prone to joint instability, recurring injuries, and a higher susceptibility to future wrist problems. By treating the injury properly, you reduce the risk of secondary issues and potential long-term consequences.

Faster Recovery Time

Early intervention, such as immobilization with splints or casts, applying cold therapy, and engaging in targeted exercises, can help reduce swelling, alleviate pain, and promote healing. Timely and appropriate treatment measures can significantly shorten the overall recovery time and allow individuals to return to their normal activities sooner.

How To Treat a Sprained Wrist Properly

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to treat a sprained wrist using the rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE) method:


Rest your wrist immediately after the injury to allow it time to heal. Avoid any activities that involve the wrist or cause pain or discomfort. Immobilize the wrist by using a splint, bandage, or a brace.


Apply ice to the affected area immediately. Ice causes the blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood supply to the area, which can minimize swelling. Apply an ice pack or a bag of ice on your sprained wrist for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day. We don’t recommend icing your wrist for longer than 20 minutes at a time. Remember to keep a towel or piece of material between the ice pack and your skin to prevent frostbite.


Use a compression bandage to help reduce inflammation and swelling by preventing blood and fluids from building up around the injury. Wrap the bandage firmly, but not too tight, around the injured wrist so that it still allows for circulation. Remove the bandage if you experience numbness, tingling, or increased pain.


Keep your sprained wrist elevated above your heart whenever possible. This helps reduce swelling by allowing fluid to drain away from the injury. Prop your wrist up on pillows or use a sling or a chair to keep the wrist elevated.

In mild cases, RICE therapy and over-the-counter pain medications may be sufficient for self-care and recovery. However, more severe sprains may require medical evaluation and treatment.

Is Ice or Heat Better for a Sprained Wrist?

Ice therapy is more appropriate for a wrist sprain immediately after the injury, while heat is better as a longer-term solution for soothing muscle soreness or stiffness.

When To Use Ice: Immediately

Always use the RICE method as soon as possible for the first 24 to 72 hours after experiencing a sprain. Ice is best for treating the early stages of injury because it reduces blood flow, swelling, and inflammation around your sprained wrist. It can also help ease pain, control bleeding if necessary, and relax muscle spasms. After the swelling in your wrist has gone down, you can then move on to heat therapy to help increase blood flow to the area.

When To Use Heat: After Swelling Subsides

Heat therapy is generally not recommended in the initial stages of a sprained wrist, especially when there’s swelling and inflammation. Applying heat too early can potentially increase swelling and prolong the healing process. However, after the initial acute phase has passed and the swelling has subsided (usually after 48 to 72 hours), heat therapy can be beneficial for promoting healing and providing pain relief.

When To Seek Medical Attention

After the initial first aid and self-care measures, treating a sprained wrist may require medical intervention to aid in a speedy recovery. Each sprained wrist is unique, and the severity of the injury may vary. If you suspect you have a sprained wrist, we recommend consulting an orthopedic specialist such as Dr. Knight for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. We can guide you through the steps to treat your sprained wrist to help facilitate healing, prevent long-term complications, restore functionality, and speed up the recovery process. Contact us today to make an appointment  with our Dallas hand surgeons.


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Dr. John Knight
Dr. John Knight

Dr. Knight is a renowned hand, wrist and upper extremity surgeon with over 25 years of experience. Dr. Knight is a Board Certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Fellowship trained. Dr Knight has appeared on CNN, The Doctors TV, Good Morning America, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, Oxygen network and more.