Scaphoid bone anatomy and fractures

scaphoid_fracturesThe scaphoid bone is one of the eight carpal bones of the wrist (you can check out this doodle for a refresher).

The scaphoid is the most commonly fractured carpal bone, accounting for almost 70% of fractures. It tends to be young males who break their scaphoid this is both an anatomical thing: younger kids get ligament injuries and older folks break their distal radius and a lifestyle thing: falling on outstretched hands (skateboarding, snowboarding) or throwing a punch both place a lot of force across the scaphoid leading to fractures.

The bad thing about scaphoid fractures is that the blood supply (from a branch of the radial artery) comes from distal to proximal. Since most fractures happen at the waist of the scaphoid the likelihood of having poor blood supply to the fracture site is quite high. It doesn’t help matters that around 80% of the scaphoid is articular surface (joint surface), so if it doesn’t heel well, it can lead to problems with arthritis of the wrist later on.

 

Presentation

Scaphoid fractures present with a pretty classic story and the person is usually swollen and bruised and will have tenderness in their “snuffbox.” So even if the x-ray doesn’t show a fracture, it’s best to treat with a cast for comfort and safety and then recheck them in 2 week’s time (this will be discussed in a separate post).

Thumb (1st metacarpal) Fractures

Thumb fractures, and by this I mean 1st metacarpal fractures, have a couple of distinct patterns that are different from the other metacarpals.

Type I: Bennett Fracture

  • This fracture is intra-articular on the ulnar side of the first metacarpal, basically making a little triangle
  • It’s that little ulnar fragment that stays attached to the trapezium by the virtue of the volar ligament
  • The distal aspect of the metacarpal gets supinated and dislocated radially no thanks to the adductor pollicis
  • The fragment gets pulled proximally by the abductor pollicis brevis and abductor pollicis longus

Type II: Rolando Fracture

  • You can think of this fracture as a really busted up Bennett’s (comminuted). It is also intra-articular and usually makes a Y or T shape
  • These kind generally heal poorly but thankfully are fairly rare

Type III: Other extra-articular fractures

  • This is basically any other 1st metacarpal fracture (all the extra-articular ones)
  • They are the most common, but don’t have fancy names, just lame ones like “transverse“, “oblique“, etc.

Type IV

  • These really only exist in paediatrics and involve the proximal physis (growth plate)

Treatment: it’s best to treat Bennett and Rolando Fractures with thumb spica splints and then refer them to your friendly neighbourhood plastic surgeon or orthopaedic surgeon as they might need pinning or an open reduction.

Salter-Harris Growth Plate Fracture Classification

The Salter-Harris fracture classification has to be just about the most sensible classification systems in medicine, as least as far as the mnemonic goes. It is a system used to grade growth plate fractures and conveniently uses Salter’s name as the way to remember.

  1. SEPARATED (the bone and the growth plate have come apart) – but it actually looks normal on x-ray (you can only tell on physical exam)
  2. Fracture ABOVE the growth plate
  3. Fracture LOWER (below) the growth plate – fracture extends to the articular surface
  4. Fracture THROUGH the growth plate
  5. Fracture ERASING/compressing/squashing the growth plate – this is the worst kind because with disruption of the growth plate comes disruption of growth. Some odd things can cause these ones like frostbite, electric shock and irradiation. They’re hard to see on x-rays but show up on MRIs.
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