Surgical fixation compared with cast immobilisation for adults with a bicortical fracture of the scaphoid waist: the SWIFFT RCT

Joseph Dias, Stephen Brealey, Liz Cook, Caroline Fairhurst, Sebastian Hinde, Paul Leighton, Surabhi Choudhary, Matthew Costa, Catherine Hewitt, Stephen Hodgson, Laura Jefferson, Kanagaratnam Jeyapalan, Ada Keding, Matthew Northgraves, Jared Palmer, Amar Rangan, Gerry Richardson, Nicholas Taub, Garry Tew, John ThompsonDavid Torgerson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


BackgroundScaphoid fractures account for 90% of carpal fractures and occur predominantly in young men. Immediate surgical fixation of this fracture has increased.ObjectiveTo compare the clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of surgical fixation with cast treatment and early fixation in adults with scaphoid waist fractures that fail to unite.DesignMulticentre, pragmatic, open-label, parallel two-arm randomised controlled trial with an economic evaluation and a nested qualitative study.SettingOrthopaedic departments of 31 hospitals in England and Wales recruited from July 2013, with final follow-up in September 2017.ParticipantsAdults (aged ≥ 16 years) presenting within 2 weeks of injury with a clear, bicortical fracture of the scaphoid waist on plain radiographs.InterventionsEarly surgical fixation using Conformité Européenne-marked headless compression screws. Below-elbow cast immobilisation for 6–10 weeks and urgent fixation of confirmed non-union.Main outcome measuresThe primary outcome and end point was the Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation total score at 52 weeks, with a clinically relevant difference of 6 points. Secondary outcomes included Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation pain and function subscales, Short Form questionnaire 12-items, bone union, range of movement, grip strength, complications and return to work.ResultsThe mean age of 439 participants was 33 years; 363 participants were male (83%) and 269 participants had an undisplaced fracture (61%). The primary analysis was on 408 participants with valid Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation outcome data for at least one post-randomisation time point (surgery,n = 203 of 219; cast,n = 205 of 220). There was no clinically relevant difference in the Patient-Rated Wrist Evaluation total score at 52 weeks: the mean score in the cast group was 14.0 (95% confidence interval 11.3 to 16.6) and in the surgery group was 11.9 (95% confidence interval 9.2 to 14.5), with an adjusted mean difference of –2.1 in favour of surgery (95% confidence interval –5.8 to 1.6;p = 0.27). The non-union rate was low (surgery group,n = 1; cast group,n = 4). Eight participants in the surgery group had a total of 11 reoperations and one participant in the cast group required a reoperation for non-union. The base-case economic analysis at 52 weeks found that surgery cost £1295 per patient more (95% confidence interval £1084 to £1504) than cast treatment. The base-case analysis of a lifetime-extrapolated model confirmed that the cast treatment pathway was more cost-effective. The nested qualitative study identified patients’ desire to have a ‘sense of recovering’, which surgeons should address at the outset.LimitationThere were 17 participants who had initial cast treatment and surgery for confirmed non-union, which in 14 cases was within 6 months from randomisation and in three cases was after 6 months. Three of the four participants in the cast group who had a non-union at 52 weeks were not offered surgery.ConclusionsAdult patients with an undisplaced or minimally displaced scaphoid waist fracture should have cast immobilisation and suspected non-unions immediately confirmed and urgently fixed. Patients should be followed up at 5 years to investigate the effect of partial union, degenerative arthritis, malunion and screw problems on their quality of life.Trial registrationCurrent Controlled Trials ISRCTN67901257.FundingThis project was funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment programme and will be published in full inHealth Technology Assessment; Vol. 24, No. 52. See the NIHR Journals Library website for further project information.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-234
Number of pages234
JournalHealth Technology Assessment
Issue number52
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Oct 2020


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