The use of pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) to stimulate bone growth has been recommended as an alternative to the surgical treatment of ununited scaphoid fractures, but has never been examined in acute fractures. We hypothesised that the use of PEMF in acute scaphoid fractures would accelerate the time to union by 30% in a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trial. A total of 53 patients in three different medical centres with a unilateral undisplaced acute scaphoid fracture were randomly assigned to receive either treatment with PEMF (n = 24) or a placebo (n = 29). The clinical and radiological outcomes were assessed at four, six, nine, 12, 24 and 52 weeks.
A log-rank analysis showed that neither time to clinical and radiological union nor the functional outcome differed significantly between the groups. The clinical assessment of union indicated that at six weeks tenderness in the anatomic snuffbox (p = 0.03) as well as tenderness on longitudinal compression of the scaphoid (p = 0.008) differed significantly in favour of the placebo group.
We conclude that stimulation of bone growth by PEMF has no additional value in the conservative treatment of acute scaphoid fractures.