Breaking any bone in your body can be quite painful. Sometimes you break a large bone, and it is immediately obvious that a break has occurred. In other cases, you may break a small bone and not know right away that you have a broken bone.
In any case, getting a broken bone treated is important so the bone can repair itself properly and so that you do not suffer any long-term side effects from the injury. In addition, leaving a broken bone without treatment could lead to an infection. So, you should make sure that even if you only suspect something is wrong with a bone that you get it checked out.
One bone that may not be clear right away when it is broken is the scaphoid. Find out where this bone is located, how it may get broken, what a break could entail and how a break is diagnosed. Also, learn more about the symptoms to watch for and how you may be treated to fix the broken scaphoid.
What Is the Scaphoid?
The scaphoid is a bone in your wrist. It is one of the small bones that are called the carpal bones. They are located at the base of your hand. They are in two rows of four. The scaphoid bone is located between the two rows of bones, connecting them. It is on the thumb side of the bones. This bone helps with motion and stability of the wrist. It is long and curved.
You can see this bone when you hold your thumb like you are giving a thumbs-up. It is at the bottom of the hollow area in your wrist. This is important to know because this is where you will probably feel pain if it is fractured.
When this bone breaks, the break happens in the middle of the bone. However, it can also happen at either end. Such a break is classified by severity based on how the bone moved when broken. It is a displaced fracture if the bones have moved and are not lined up. It is a non-displaced fracture if the bones have not moved and are still aligned.
What Are the Symptoms of a Fracture?
If you have a scaphoid fracture, the most common symptom will be a pain in the wrist area under your thumb. It may also be swollen. The pain will probably be worse when you move your thumb or wrist. Grasping something will also cause pain. If you have a displaced fracture, then you may notice a bulge or deformity in the area under the thumb on the wrist. You may also see bruising.
There is not always a severe pain. You may just think you have sprained your wrist, as the two issues are commonly confused. If you feel pain for more than a day or you notice swelling or disfiguration in the area below your thumb, you should go see a doctor for a proper diagnosis.
How Does a Fracture Occur?
It is fairly easy to break this bone in a fall when you land on your hand with the palm down. The weight of your body can easily break this delicate bone. This type of fall may also break the bone in your forearm. This could make it harder to recognize the scaphoid has been broken.
Other causes of a scaphoid break include sports injuries and auto accidents. Skiing related thumb injuries result from a fall on an outstretched hand that is attached to a ski pole. The result is a “skier’s thumb” which is an ulna collateral ligament sprain. Your doctor will want to consider a Bennett or Rolando fracture. Some sports such as tennis that have impacts routinely to the wrist area might increase your chances of developing this type of fracture. Using wrist guards when playing sports can help prevent a break. However, most breaks occur as part of an accidental fall and therefore are difficult to prevent.
How Is a Fracture Diagnosed?
Your doctor can easily diagnose this type of bone break. Typically, he or she will begin by asking you about your symptoms and how the injury occurred. There will probably be a physical examination as well. If the doctor cannot rule out a break or wants further confirmation, he or she will usually order an x-ray. This may show if the bone is broken and help the doctor to see the severity of the break and its location. These details are important in treating the break.
Do be aware that sometimes a scaphoid break will not show up clearly in an x-ray. If this is the case but your doctor feels as if you do have a break, he or she may follow a course of treatment for the break. That is, with convincing signs and symptoms, your doctor will assume a fracture has occurred. You may have to go back in a few weeks for another x-ray, at which time it may be more apparent on the film. Your doctor may also do a CT scan or MRI if an x-ray shows nothing or to get a more in-depth look at the damage to the area.
How Is It Treated?
Treating your break depends on many factors. Your doctor will first want to determine the extent of the break, including the location. He or she will also consider when the break occurred. If you waited to get treatment, it could affect what your doctor recommends.
If you have a simple break where the bone was not displaced, then you probably will get a cast. You also will probably be told to limit activity with that hand and arm. You may also just get a thumb-spica splint. Healing generally takes around six weeks but may take longer for some people because there is not good blood flow to that area naturally, which is required for healing. You may also be prescribed physical therapy to ensure you get the range of motion back in your wrist and suffer no long-term effects. Your doctor may also take x-rays to monitor the healing process. You may also be prescribed use of a bone stimulator which uses ultrasonic or electromagnetic waves to help speed healing.
For more severe breaks and when the bone is displaced, you may have to have surgery. During the surgery, the bone is realigned, and any fragments that may have broken off are removed. The bone is also stabilized so it can heal properly. Generally, surgery is done in an outpatient setting. This may be done with or without incisions. In some cases, the surgery is more involved and you may have to go to the hospital. Metal screws and implants may be used to stabilize the bone. Bone grafts may also be used. After surgery, you may have to wear a cast or splint. Recovery time is still usually about six weeks but can be longer. Surgery may also happen if you have a break treated with just a cast and the bone does not heal or show signs of healing on a normal schedule.
What Is the Recovery Process?
As mentioned, most scaphoid fractures will heal within six weeks. If you get a cast, you may have it removed and a splint put in its place to provide you with more use of the hand. The determination of returning to normal activities is done on a case-by-case basis, so discuss this with your doctor. Physical therapy is usually needed once the bone is fully healed. It helps to strengthen and loosen up muscles so you can regain a normal range of motion.
What Complications Can Result?
There are usually not any complications with a simple scaphoid break. You will be diagnosed and treated by your doctor with minimal issues. Surgery is usually without complications because it is normally done on an outpatient basis without general anesthesia being required. However, there is still a risk of infection if incisions were made. Your doctor may prescribe you antibiotics as a preventative measure to ensure no infection occurs. There is also a risk that the bone will not heal properly and that range of motion could be permanently affected. However, this risk is very low. Following your doctor’s orders is the best way to avoid complications.
The small bone at the base of the thumb in the wrist is most commonly broken as the result of a fall. If you fall onto your palm, the strain and the weight on the bone can cause it to break. Breaks can be in any part of the bone. Some are more severe than others, especially if the bone is not aligned after the break.
When it comes to scaphoid fractures, they generally are not a major health concern. They can easily be healed with minor treatments or minimal surgical intervention. There are few complications associated with this type of break. Most people will heal within six weeks with proper treatment and have no long-term effects.
While a scaphoid fracture may be painful, it is usually easily treated. In only six weeks most people can return to normal activities. This common fracture is not something that usually causes complications, so you should rest easy knowing that by getting treatment, you will soon be good as new.