The Snuffbox: The Effect of Smokeless Tobacco Use on Scaphoid Fracture Healing

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The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons


BACKGROUND: Smoking has been demonstrated to be a risk factor for nonunion of scaphoid fractures, but it is unclear if chewing tobacco confers similar risk. The purpose of this study was to evaluate rates of bone-related complications after nonsurgical management of scaphoid fractures in smokeless tobacco users compared with matched control subjects and compared with smokers. METHODS: A retrospective cohort study was conducted using the PearlDiver database. For patients who underwent nonsurgical management of scaphoid fractures, 212 smokeless tobacco users and 6,048 smokers were matched 1:4 with control subjects (n = 848 and 24,192, respectively) and 212 smokeless tobacco users were matched 1:4 with 848 smokers. Rates of bone-related complications within 2 years of initial injury were compared using multivariable logistic regression. RESULTS: From weeks 12 through 104 after initial injury, compared with control subjects who do not use tobacco, the smokeless tobacco cohort demonstrated markedly higher rates of nonunion (5.7% vs 2.7%, OR: 2.07). Compared with control subjects who do not use tobacco, the smoking cohort demonstrated markedly higher rates of nonunion (4.3% vs 2.6%, OR: 1.91), repair of nonunion (1.5% vs 0.9%, OR: 1.87), and four corner fusion and proximal row carpectomy (0.3% vs 0.1%, OR: 3.17). Smokeless tobacco use was markedly underdiagnosed in the adult male cohort of unilateral scaphoid fractures with 2 years of follow-up found in the database (372 of 25,704, 1.45%) relative to Centers for Disease Control estimates for adult male smokeless tobacco use (4.5%) ( P < 0.001). CONCLUSION: Given the higher rates of nonunion diagnoses after nonsurgical management in this cohort, surgeons should consider asking all patients with scaphoid fractures if they use smokeless tobacco or smoke and consider adding this to the patient's intake history to further identify patients at risk for nonunions. Tobacco cessation counseling is indicated for all tobacco users, including smokeless with scaphoid fractures.

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