Background: The pathogenesis of reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) is not clear, nor is there a definitive treatment for this syndrome. The morbidity, costs in health care, and loss of work time justify the search for a means to prevent post-traumatic dystrophy. Although the role of toxic oxygen radicals has not yet been clarified, we investigated vitamin C (ascorbic acid) as a prophylactic antioxidant drug.
Methods: 123 adults with 127 conservatively treated wrist fractures were randomly allocated in a double-blind trial to take a capsule of 500 mg vitamin C or placebo daily for 50 days. Each participant's sex, age, side of fracture, dominance, fracture type, dislocation, reduction, and complaints with the plaster cast were recorded, and they were clinically scored for RSD. The follow-up lasted 1 year.
Findings: Eight patients were withdrawn after randomisation. 52 patients with 54 fractures (male 22%, female 78%; mean age 57 years) received vitamin C and 63 patients with 65 fractures (male 20%, female 80%; mean age 60 years) received placebo. RSD occurred in four (7%) wrists in the vitamin C group and 14 (22%) in the placebo group 15% (95% CI for differences 2-26). Other significant prognostic variables for the occurrence of RSD were complaints while wearing the cast (relative risk 0.17 [0.07-0.41]) and fracture type (0.37 [0.16-0.89]).
Interpretation: This prospective, double-blind study shows that vitamin C was associated with a lower risk of RSD after wrist fractures. Our hypothesis is that this beneficial effect of prophylaxis would be useful in other forms of trauma.