The scaphoid is one of the small bones in the wrist and the one that is most likely to break.
A fracture of the scaphoid usually happens from a fall on an outstretched hand, with the weight landing on the palm. The injury often happens during sporting activities or in a motor vehicle accident.
However, it is not always an easy injury to diagnose. Unless the wrist is deformed, it might not be obvious that the scaphoid bone is broken and it is often mistaken for a sprained wrist. It is important to see a doctor if there is pain on the thumb side of the wrist that starts after a fall or accident and does not go away within a few days.
Scaphoid fractures usually cause pain in the base of the thumb, with swelling in the same area. The pain may be severe when the thumb or wrist is moved or the hand grips anything. In some cases, the pain is not severe, which is why it is often mistaken for a sprained wrist. It is very important to be aware of the symptoms as scaphoid fractures are often not diagnosed on a visit to casualty.
X-rays will be used to assess the injury, but a broken scaphoid does not always show up on an X-ray immediately. If this is the case, the wrist might be put in a splint for a week or two. A new X-ray will then be taken to see if the fracture will become visible. A splint is usually worn during this period, and heavy lifting should be avoided.
An MRI (magnetic resonance image) scan may be taken to visualize the bones and soft tissues. This sometimes shows a fracture of the scaphoid before it can be seen on an X-ray.
The treatment for a scaphoid fracture depends upon the location of the fracture. It is usually treated with a below elbow cast which is worn for a few weeks, but exceptionally surgery is required.