There are several rehabilitation treatments that may be offered after carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) surgery. The effectiveness of these interventions is still uncertain. The researchers set out to review the effectiveness of rehabilitation following CTS surgery compared with no treatment, placebo, or another intervention. 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 were collected to conduct the study. Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, extracted data and assessed the risk of bias according to standard Cochrane methodology. The review included 20 trials with a total of 1445 participants. The researchers 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. 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.
The authors found that there is limited and, in general, low quality evidence for the benefit of the reviewed interventions and suggested that patients who have had CTS surgery should be advised 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.