Is hand splinting effective for adults following stroke? A systematic review and methodological critique of published research Academic Article uri icon


  • Upper limb hemiplegia after stroke is common and disabling. Hand splints are widely used to prevent contracture and reduce spasticity.To assess the effectiveness of hand splinting on the hemiplegic upper extremity following stroke.A search was conducted of the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials; the electronic databases MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PEDro, SCI, SSCI; websites of professional associations; reference lists in trial reports and other relevant articles.Studies of the effect of upper extremity splinting on motor control, functional abilities, contracture, spasticity, or pain in the hand or wrist.Validity of studies was assessed systematically and a content analysis was conducted of the methodologies used. Methodological quality of randomized trials was rated by two independent assessors using the PEDro scale.Nineteen studies were appraised for content. Of these, most (63%) were reports of case series. Four studies (21%) were randomized controlled trials. Methodological scores of trials ranged from 2 to 8 (maximum possible score 10). One trial of nominally 'medium' quality reported that inflatable arm splinting makes no difference to hand function (mean difference on Fugl-Meyer Assessment -0.12, 95% confidence interval (CI) -9.8 to 9.6). The remaining trials investigated effects of thermoplastic splints; one trial of 'high quality' reported no difference in contracture formation in the wrist and finger flexor muscles after wearing a hand splint which positioned the wrist in the traditional functional position for 12 hours each night for four weeks (mean difference in range of movement after four weeks was 1 degree, 95% CI -3.7 degrees to 6.1 degrees; power >80%). All remaining trials were of poor methodological quality. Limited research and lack of a no-splint control group in all trials to date limit the usefulness of these results. REVIEWER'S CONCLUSION: There is insufficient evidence to either support or refute the effectiveness of hand splinting for adults following stroke.

publication date

  • December 2003