Improving the clinical outcome of scaphoid fractures may benefit from adequate monitoring of their healing in order to for example identify complications such as scaphoid nonunion at an early stage and to adjust the treatment strategy accordingly. However, quantitative assessment of the healing process is limited with current imaging modalities. In this study, high-resolution peripheral quantitative computed tomography (HR-pQCT) was used for the first time to assess the changes in bone density, microarchitecture, and strength during the healing of conservatively-treated scaphoid fractures. Thirteen patients with a scaphoid fracture (all confirmed on HR-pQCT and eleven on CT) received an HR-pQCT scan at baseline and three, six, twelve, and 26 weeks after first presentation at the emergency department. Bone mineral density (BMD) and trabecular microarchitecture of the scaphoid bone were quantified, and failure load (FL) was estimated using micro-finite element analysis. Longitudinal changes were evaluated with linear mixed-effects models. Data of two patients were excluded due to surgical intervention after the twelve-week follow-up visit. In the eleven fully evaluable patients, the fracture line became more apparent at three weeks. At six weeks, individual trabeculae at the fracture region became more difficult to identify and distinguish from neighboring trabeculae, and this phenomenon concerned a larger region around the fracture line at twelve weeks. Quantitative assessment showed that BMD and FL were significantly lower than baseline at all follow-up visits with the largest change from baseline at six weeks (-13.6% and -23.7%, respectively). BMD remained unchanged thereafter, while FL increased. Trabecular thickness decreased significantly from baseline at three (-3.9%), six (-6.7%), and twelve (-4.4%) weeks and trabecular number at six (-4.5%), twelve (-7.3%), and 26 (-7.9%) weeks. Trabecular separation was significantly higher than baseline at six (+13.3%), twelve (+19.7%), and 26 (+16.3%) weeks. To conclude, this explorative HR-pQCT study showed a substantial decrease in scaphoid BMD, Tb.Th, and FL during the first six weeks of healing of conservatively-treated scaphoid fractures, followed by stabilization or increase in these parameters. At 26 weeks, BMD, trabecular microarchitecture, and FL were not returned to baseline values.
- Bone density
- Bone microarchitecture
- Fracture healing
- Micro-finite element analysis
- Scaphoid fracture