Management of clinical fractures of the scaphoid: results of an audit and literature review

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Abstract

Objectives:

Two to 5% of scaphoid fractures are missed on initial presentation. The failure of early recognition and treatment are considered to contribute to delayed union and non-union. Despite advances in diagnostic imaging, a dogmatic approach has persisted in the management of patients with clinical suspicion but no radiographic evidence of scaphoid fracture. A critical analysis of the current treatment protocol of indiscriminate cast immobilization and serial clinical and radiographic follow-up is presented.

Methods:

A prospective study involving 90 patients with clinical signs suggestive of scaphoid injury, followed up until a definite boney injury was demonstrated or the patient was discharged. A review of the literature was conducted to question the need for immobilization in these patients and the potential use of other forms of diagnostic imaging in screening for occult scaphoid fractures.

Results:

The incidence of true fractures of the scaphoid was 6.66% (5/75). Ten patients (13.33%) had other injuries around the wrist unrelated to the scaphoid. Eighty per cent of the patients had no definite boney injury and were needlessly immobilized, and followed up. A total of 128 scaphoid casts, 135 sets of scaphoid X-rays, 135 clinic appointments and a cumulative 148 weeks of cast immobilization involved patients with normal wrists.

Conclusion:

The incidence of radiologically inapparent fractures of the scaphoid is low. The use of a tender anatomical snuff box as the only clinical sign in the diagnosis of scaphoid injury is unsatisfactory. Other injuries around the wrist must be carefully excluded. There is insufficient evidence to support immobilizing all patients with clinical scaphoid fractures. For suspected fractures with no radiological evidence, symptomatic treatment is probably sufficient. Most occult fractures are visible at 2 weeks. Both magnetic resonance imaging and bone scintigraphy are accurate and cost effective and should be performed earlier rather than later.

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