Even though it is not uncommon, it is possible to mistake a scaphoid fracture for a sprain. It is important to understand the difference, and what happens if an untreated scaphoid fracture is not diagnosed, as it can impact a patient’s path to recovery.
What is a scaphoid fracture and how does it happen?
The scaphoid is a small bone in your wrist, near the thumb. It performs an important role and links various bones in the hand and wrist.
It is also susceptible to injury as scaphoid fractures tend to occur after a fall, when someone has landed on their outstretched hands.
Scaphoid fracture types
There are two types of scaphoid fracture: a nondisplaced scaphoid fracture and a displaced fracture.
A nondisplaced fracture means the bone has not moved out of position. This can be hard to detect. In a displaced fracture, the bones will have moved.
What are the symptoms and signs of a fracture?
The most common signs of a fracture are pain and swelling in and around the thumb and wrist. The application of any pressure to the injured area will be painful.
The severity and level of pain can vary and some people may also experience difficulties gripping things.
An area of the hand known as the snuffbox (a small grape-sized indentation just above the thumb) will be very tender in the event of a fracture.
Diagnosis and misdiagnosis of a scaphoid fracture
It is not uncommon for a scaphoid fracture misdiagnosis to occur. It may have just been assumed to be a sprain or strain that will heal.
Because symptoms can be mild, there may be no visible deformity. As the symptoms can appear similar to a wrist sprain, it may also have been misdiagnosed by professional healthcare providers.
An X-ray is often needed to confirm the presence of a previously untreated scaphoid fracture. Even then, it may not show up. Sometimes, a CT scan and/or MRI may be necessary.
A nondisplaced fracture is usually harder to identify. It may only show up on X-ray weeks after the initial injury.
How should a scaphoid fracture be treated?
Treatment may vary according to various factors, including:
- how active you are
- your symptoms
- any other medical conditions you have
- whether you’re a smoker
- the nature of the fracture.
A scaphoid fracture will normally require your wrist to be put in a cast. Your medical practitioner should have advised you about this.
It can take 10 to 12 weeks for the fracture to heal sufficiently.
A displaced fracture may need more invasive treatment. Surgery is needed to reposition the bones and ensure they are properly aligned. You will still need a cast after surgery.
The recovery period is longer and can potentially be extended further if the procedure if there are complications or if the surgery doesn’t go according to plan or surgical negligence occurs.
What happens if symptoms are ignored or not detected?
The scaphoid bone is not good at healing itself because it has a limited blood supply. This also means that if it’s left untreated it can restrict the blood supply. This can cause the bone or tissue to die. If this happens, it can lead to:
- loss of movement
- difficulty grasping and gripping
These problems can persist over a long period. Sometimes the long term symptoms may not present themselves until a significant period after the injury occurred.
What should you do if you suspect you have an untreated scaphoid fracture?
If your medical practitioner diagnosed a sprained wrist, but several weeks, months or even years have gone by and you are still in pain, seek an opinion from another medical professional. You may need treatment or alternative treatment options. It may also be that you can make a claim for medical negligence.
An independent clinical negligence solicitor can provide advice on bringing a claim for a misdiagnosed fracture, to cover the costs of any further treatment required and any pain and suffering you have endured.
At Devonshires Claims, our team of experienced clinical negligence solicitors can help you to understand whether you have a claim, assist you in gathering relevant evidence, and represent you throughout the claims process on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.