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Immobilisation of suspected scaphoid fractures
  1. Kathryn Gow,
  2. Rob Williams
  1. Department of Emergency Medicine, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9WL

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    Report by Kathryn Gow, Medical Student Search checked by Rob Williams, Clinical Fellow

    Clinical scenario

    A 25 year old man attends the emergency department with a one day old wrist injury caused by falling onto his outstretched hand. He is tender in his anatomical snuff box and also on longitudinal thumb compression, but he is in very little pain on normal everyday movements. You send him for a scaphoid series of x rays which reveal no fracture. You arrange for him to return to the department in two weeks time for a repeat radiological and clinical examination. You wonder whether his wrist should be immobilised in a plaster cast or whether a simple elastic support bandage will suffice.

    Three part question

    In [patients with clinical signs of scaphoid fracture but no fracture on first x ray] is [plaster casting] necessary for [immediate management and the prevention of long term complications]?

    Search strategy

    Medline 1966 to 12/99 using the OVID interface. [({exp fractures OR exp fractures, closed OR exp fractures, malunited OR exp fractures, ununited OR fracture$.mp} AND scaphoid$.mp) AND {exp casts, surgical OR cast$.mp OR plaster.mp OR exp splints OR splint$.mp OR exp immobilisation OR immobilisation.mp}] LIMIT to human AND english.

    Search outcome

    Altogether 131 papers were found of which 127 were irrelevant to the study question or of insufficient quality for inclusion. The remaining four papers are shown in table 2.

    Table 2
    Table 3

    Comment

    There is no direct evidence to answer the questions posed. The only prospective randomised controlled trial shows that patients return to work sooner if they are treated with a supportive bandage, but the follow up was too short to show any complications of this approach. It appears that the adverse event rate (fracture) is low (1%–5%)in the target population. In this subpopulation of fractures the adverse event rate (delayed union or non-union) is also low (10%–20%)—thus the overall long term complication rate for clinically suspected scaphoid fractures is tiny (0.1%–1%). None of the studies include enough patients to show any effect on this.

    Clinical bottom line

    There is no evidence to answer the question posed. Further work is needed in this area.

    Report by Kathryn Gow, Medical Student Search checked by Rob Williams, Clinical Fellow

    References

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