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If you have fallen onto an outstretched hand and are experiencing wrist pain, a scaphoid fracture could be the culprit. Sometimes confused for a sprain, this type of wrist injury requires skilled medical treatment to heal properly.
Learn more about the causes, symptoms, treatment, and recovery for scaphoid fractures below:
Understanding Scaphoid Fractures
Eight carpal bones make up the human wrist, which connects the hand and forearm. The scaphoid is a boat-shaped carpal bone located on the thumb side of the wrist that articulates with the radius (one of the forearm bones) as well as four other carpal bones (the trapezoid, trapezium, lunate, and capitate). The scaphoid is important for both the movement and stability of the wrist joint.
A scaphoid fracture is a type of broken wrist that occurs when the scaphoid bone fractures or breaks.
A scaphoid fracture may occur at or near one of the ends of your scaphoid or in the center (known as the waist). Determining exactly which part of your scaphoid has been injured will allow your doctor or surgeon to move forward with the most appropriate treatment plan.
- A distal pole fracture describes a fracture near the end of the scaphoid closest to your hand and fingers.
- A proximal pole fracture describes a fracture near the end of the scaphoid closest to your forearm.
- A waist fracture describes a fracture located in the middle third of the scaphoid bone. Waist fractures account for about two-thirds of all scaphoid fractures.
Scaphoid fractures can also be classified as displaced or non-displaced. A displaced fracture describes a fracture where the bone pieces have become misaligned; a non-displaced fracture describes a fracture where the bone pieces have remained in proper alignment.
Scaphoid fractures are often caused by a fall onto an outstretched hand but can also be the result of a car accident, sports injury, or other high-impact event. This injury can affect people of all ages, but is most common in young adults (children and elderly patients are more likely to sustain a distal radius fracture). People with Osteoporosis are at increased risk of bone fractures, including scaphoid fractures.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Scaphoid Fractures
Because scaphoid fractures are not always associated with visible deformities or severely restricted range of motion, proper diagnosis of this injury is sometimes delayed. Unfortunately, such delays can contribute to sub-optimal healing.
Symptoms and Clinical Presentation
If you have sustained a fall onto an outstretched hand and are experiencing any of the following symptoms, seek medical attention to received a conclusive diagnosis and proper treatment as soon as possible:
- Wrist pain (sometimes described as a dull ache)
- Tenderness to touch on the thumb side of the wrist
- Localized bruising
- Decreased mobility in the wrist joint
- Visible deformity of the wrist
After physically examining your wrist, your doctor or surgeon will order an X-ray of the area if a scaphoid fracture is suspected. If more diagnostic information is required (for instance, if the fracture is complex or didn’t show up clearly on the X-ray), further imaging tests such as a CT scan or MRI may also be ordered.
Treatment and Management
The goal of scaphoid fracture treatment is to align your bone and immobilize it to promote proper healing. Your personal treatment plan will take into account your medical history as well as the severity of your injury.
Conservative Treatment Options
If a scaphoid fracture is mild and the bone pieces have remained in alignment (non-displaced), conservative treatment with a splint or cast may be all that is required. Splinting or casting usually lasts between three and eight weeks, depending on the circumstances.
Serial X-rays or CT scans may be taken throughout the healing process to ensure that proper anatomical alignment is being maintained.
Surgical treatment for a scaphoid fracture may be indicated in cases with severe displacement or where the bone has broken into more than two pieces. Surgery may also be used to treat scaphoid fractures that are healing slowly or failing to heal at all (known as non-union fractures). Non-union fractures can lead to long-term issues such as post-traumatic arthritis.
The most common scaphoid fracture surgery is open reduction internal fixation (ORIF) and involves reducing (realigning) the fracture through an incision and then placing screws as internal hardware to maintain proper anatomical alignment. Bone graft may or may not be used to augment healing.
Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation Approaches
No matter the treatment plan, strict immobilization throughout the healing process is critical for scaphoid fractures. Once the bone is completely healed (which may be confirmed with a CT scan), patients will begin physiotherapy exercises to regain strength and full range of motion.
Living With Scaphoid Fractures
Because the scaphoid has relatively few blood vessels and they are often damaged during injury, scaphoid fractures often take longer to heal than fractures in many other bones. The exact length of time your recovery will take will depend on the severity of the injury, your overall health and wellness, and how well you follow your treatment plan. In general, scaphoid fractures may heal in as little as six weeks, but often take much longer.
Most patients make a full recovery from a scaphoid fracture and are able to resume all activities once healing is complete.
Lower your risk of scaphoid fractures by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle, avoiding risky physical activities, always wearing a seat belt, and wearing proper protective equipment during sports and athletics.
Consulting Your Doctor
At Modern Orthopaedics of New Jersey, our award-winning surgical team is always ready to diagnose and treat your wrist pain with the utmost skill and professionalism. Book your appointment today!
Peter DeNoble, MD, FAAOS
Hand, Wrist, Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon
Meet Dr. DeNoble
Dr. Peter Denoble, MD, FAAOS specializes in Hand, Wrist, Shoulder, and Elbow Surgery. Dr. DeNoble is the Founder of Modern Orthopedics of NJ and is the Creator and Host of the of the Beyond The Bones Podcast.
David Ratliff, MD, FAAOS
Hand, Wrist, Shoulder & Elbow Surgeon
Meet Dr. Ratliff
Dr. Ratliff specializes in Hand, Wrist, Shoulder, and Elbow Surgery. Learn more about specialties, training and treatment philosphy by visiting Dr. Ratliff's full profile page.
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