Splinting as a "First" Defense Against Carpal Tunnel SyndromePicture this: two groups of workers in an auto assembly plant. All have carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). One group wore custom-made wrist splints every night for six weeks. Both groups watched a move on CTS and how to prevent it at work. Which group had the best results? That's the focus of this study from the University of Michigan.
Researchers found the splinting group did much better than the control group. And the improvements were still present a year later. The workers in both groups were evenly matched in terms of age, size, gender, and symptoms. The splinted group did have more job dissatisfaction compared to the control group.
At the end of six weeks both groups had less discomfort in the hand and wrist. The splinting group also reported less discomfort in the elbow and forearm. Almost half the treatment group said they were "much better." Only one worker was completely better.
A major finding of this study was the effect of splinting on symptoms when nerve function isn't normal. Symptoms improved even when the function of the median nerve didn't change. In other words, the splinted group got better even when the nerve was impaired. The control group only got better when nerve function was normal.
The authors conclude that splinting at night for CTS can improve symptoms even without normal nerve function. It also reduces the cost of medical care for this condition. A larger study with more workers is needed before advising the use of splints first before other treatment.
Robert A. Werner, MD, et al. Randomized Controlled Trial of Nocturnal Splinting for Active Workers with Symptoms of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. In Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. January 2005. Vol. 86. No. 1. Pp. 1-7.
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