Nonoperative Compared with Operative Treatment of Acute Scaphoid Fractures: A Randomized Clinical Trial

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Abstract

Background: Traditionally, acute nondisplaced scaphoid fractures have been treated nonoperatively in a cast, and the expected union rate approaches 90%. Internal fixation of nondisplaced scaphoid fractures has increased in popularity, and a union rate of 100% has been reported. The growing trend is to recommend internal fixation for the majority of acute scaphoid fractures. The true long-term benefits of this more complicated treatment modality have not yet been determined in randomized controlled trials. The purpose of this study was to compare the long-term results of operative fixation of acute scaphoid fractures with those of nonoperative treatment.

Methods: During the period between 1992 and 1997, eighty-three patients with an acute nondisplaced or minimally displaced scaphoid fracture were randomly allocated to, and received, either nonoperative treatment with a cast or internal fixation with a Herbert screw. At a median of ten years after the injury, seventy-five (93%) of the eighty-one patients who were still alive were assessed clinically and radiographically.

Results: All fractures united. A significant increase in the prevalence of osteoarthritis in the scaphotrapezial joint was found in the operatively treated group. No differences in subjective symptoms, as measured with limb-specific outcome scores, were found between the two groups. The range of motion and grip strength were greater, but not significantly greater, in the nonoperatively treated group.

Conclusions: This study did not demonstrate a true long-term benefit of internal fixation, compared with nonoperative treatment, for acute nondisplaced or minimally displaced scaphoid fractures. The long-term risks of surgery should be considered when recommending operative treatment.

Level of Evidence: Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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