Therapeutic ultrasound for carpal tunnel syndrome

Matthew J Page, Denise O'Connor, Veronica Pitt, Nicola Massy-Westropp

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

56 Citations (Scopus)


BACKGROUND: Therapeutic ultrasound may be offered to people experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). The effectiveness and duration of benefit of this non-surgical intervention remain unclear.

OBJECTIVES: To review the effects of therapeutic ultrasound compared with no treatment, placebo or another non-surgical intervention in people with CTS.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group Specialized Register (22 February 2011), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (The Cochrane Library, 2011, Issue 1), MEDLINE (January 1966 to February 2011), EMBASE (January 1980 to February 2011), CINAHL Plus (January 1937 to February 2011), and AMED (January 1985 to February 2011).

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised controlled trials (RCTs) comparing any regimen of therapeutic ultrasound with no treatment, a placebo or another non-surgical intervention in people with CTS.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently selected trials for inclusion, extracted data and assessed the risk of bias in the included studies. We calculated risk ratio (RR) and mean difference (MD) with 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for primary and secondary outcomes. We pooled results of clinically homogenous trials in a meta-analysis using a random-effects model, where possible, to provide estimates of the effect.

MAIN RESULTS: We included 11 studies randomising 443 patients in the review. Two trials compared therapeutic ultrasound with placebo, two compared one ultrasound regimen with another, two compared ultrasound with another non-surgical intervention, and six compared ultrasound as part of a multi-component intervention with another non-surgical intervention (for example, exercises and splint). The risk of bias was low in some studies and unclear or high in other studies, with only three reporting that the allocation sequence was concealed and six reporting that participants were blinded. Overall, there is insufficient evidence that one therapeutic ultrasound regimen is more efficacious than another. Only two studies reported the primary outcome of interest, short-term overall improvement (any measure in which patients indicate the intensity of their complaints compared with baseline, for example, global rating of improvement, satisfaction with treatment, within three months post-treatment). One low quality trial with 68 participants found that when compared with placebo, therapeutic ultrasound may increase the chance of experiencing short-term overall improvement at the end of seven weeks treatment (RR 2.36; 95% CI 1.40 to 3.98), although losses to follow-up in this study suggest that these data should be interpreted with caution. Another low quality trial with 60 participants found that at three months, post-treatment therapeutic ultrasound plus splint increased the chance of short-term overall improvement (patient satisfaction) when compared with splint alone (RR 3.02; 95% CI 1.36 to 6.72), but decreased the chance of short-term overall improvement when compared with low-level laser therapy plus splint (RR 0.87; 95% CI 0.57 to 1.33), though participants were not blinded to treatment and it was unclear if the random allocation sequence was adequately concealed. Differences between groups receiving different frequencies and intensities of ultrasound, and between ultrasound as part of a multi-component intervention versus other non-surgical interventions, were generally small and not statistically significant for symptoms, function, and neurophysiologic parameters. Only four studies measured adverse effects, none of which identified adverse effects due to therapeutic ultrasound. However, more data on this outcome are required before any firm conclusions on the safety of this intervention can be made.

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is only poor quality evidence from very limited data to suggest that therapeutic ultrasound may be more effective than placebo for either short- or long-term symptom improvement in people with CTS. There is insufficient evidence to support the greater benefit of one type of therapeutic ultrasound regimen over another or to support the use of therapeutic ultrasound as a treatment with greater efficacy compared to other non-surgical interventions for CTS, such as splinting, exercises, and oral drugs. More methodologically rigorous studies are needed to determine the effectiveness and safety of this intervention for CTS.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberCD009601
Number of pages165
JournalCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jan 2012


  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Humans
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ultrasonic Therapy


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