Rehabilitation following carpal tunnel release

Susan Peters, Matthew J Page, Michel W Coppieters, Mark Ross, Venerina Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Various rehabilitation treatments may be offered following carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) surgery. The effectiveness of these interventions remains unclear.

OBJECTIVES: To review the effectiveness of rehabilitation following CTS surgery compared with no treatment, placebo, or another intervention.

SEARCH METHODS: On 3 April 2012, we searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Specialized Register (3 April 2012), CENTRAL (2012, Issue 3), MEDLINE (January 1966 to March 2012), EMBASE (January 1980 to March 2012), CINAHL Plus (January 1937 to March 2012), AMED (January 1985 to April 2012), LILACS (January 1982 to March 2012), PsycINFO (January 1806 to March 2012), PEDRO (29 January 2013) and clinical trials registers (29 January 2013).

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised or quasi-randomised clinical trials that compared any postoperative rehabilitation intervention with either no intervention, placebo or another postoperative rehabilitation intervention in individuals who had undergone CTS surgery.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, extracted data and assessed the risk of bias according to standard Cochrane methodology.

MAIN RESULTS: In this review we included 20 trials with a total of 1445 participants. We studied different rehabilitation treatments including: immobilisation using a wrist orthosis, dressings, exercise, controlled cold therapy, ice therapy, multimodal hand rehabilitation, laser therapy, electrical modalities, scar desensitisation, and arnica. Three trials compared a rehabilitation treatment to a placebo comparison; three trials compared rehabilitation to a no treatment control; three trials compared rehabilitation to standard care; and 14 trials compared various rehabilitation treatments to one another.Overall, the included studies were very low in quality. Eleven trials explicitly reported random sequence generation and, of these, three adequately concealed the allocation sequence. Four trials achieved blinding of both participants and outcome assessors. Five studies were at high risk of bias from incompleteness of outcome data at one or more time intervals. Eight trials had a high risk of selective reporting bias.The trials were heterogenous in terms of the treatments provided, the duration of interventions, the nature and timing of outcomes measured and setting. Therefore, we were not able to pool results across trials.Four trials reported our primary outcome, change in self reported functional ability at three months or longer. Of these, three trials provided sufficient outcome data for inclusion in this review. One small high quality trial studied a desensitisation program compared to standard treatment and revealed no statistically significant functional benefit based on the Boston Carpal Tunnel Questionnaire (BCTQ) (MD -0.03; 95% CI -0.39 to 0.33). One moderate quality trial assessed participants six months post surgery using the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) questionnaire and found no significant difference between a no formal therapy group and a two-week course of multimodal therapy commenced at five to seven days post surgery (MD 1.00; 95% CI -4.44 to 6.44). One very low quality quasi-randomised trial found no statistically significant difference in function on the BCTQ at three months post surgery with early immobilisation (plaster wrist orthosis worn until suture removal) compared with a splint and late mobilisation (MD 0.39; 95% CI -0.45 to 1.23).The differences between the treatments for the secondary outcome measures (change in self reported functional ability measured at less than three months; change in CTS symptoms; change in CTS-related impairment measures; presence of iatrogenic symptoms from surgery; return to work or occupation; and change in neurophysiological parameters) were generally small and not statistically significant. Few studies reported adverse events.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is limited and, in general, low quality evidence for the benefit of the reviewed interventions. People who have had CTS surgery should be informed about the limited evidence of the effectiveness of postoperative rehabilitation interventions. Until the results of more high quality trials that assess the effectiveness and safety of various rehabilitation treatments have been reported, the decision to provide rehabilitation following CTS surgery should be based on the clinician's expertise, the patient's preferences and the context of the rehabilitation environment. It is important for researchers to identify patients who respond to a certain treatment and those who do not, and to undertake high quality studies that evaluate the severity of iatrogenic symptoms from the surgery, measure function and return-to-work rates, and control for confounding variables.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD004158.pub2
Number of pages157
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2013


  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Humans
  • Outcome Assessment (Health Care)
  • Postoperative Care
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rehabilitation


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