Surgery beats splints for wrist syndrome

When medicines fail to help a patient who has the painful wrist condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome, doctors are left with two choices: nighttime splints that immobilize the wrist or surgery to free up the compressed nerve there.

Researchers in the Netherlands report in the Sept. 11 Journal of the American Medical Association that surgery brings more relief.

In a study conducted between 1998 and 2000, the scientists found that 62 of 78 patients (80 percent) randomly assigned to get surgery improved within 3 months of the procedure, whereas only 46 of 86 patients (54 percent) wearing splints while asleep reported relief. After 18 months, the success rate had climbed to 90 percent in the surgery group. Researchers considered a patient better off if he or she reported being “completely recovered” or “much improved.” Many in the splint group chose surgery after a few months.

Study coauthor Annette A.M. Gerritsen of the Vrije University Medical Center in Amsterdam and her colleagues say that wearing splints might be helpful while a patient awaits surgery, but getting the operation “results in better outcomes.”


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