Splints/orthoses in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2001 Oct 23;2001(1):CD004018. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004018.


Background: Splints/orthoses are often recommended to patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to decrease pain, decrease swelling and/or prevent deformity. These orthoses include resting hand splints, wrist supports, finger splints and special shoes and shoe inserts.

Objectives: To assess the effectiveness of splints/orthoses in relieving pain, decreasing swelling and/or preventing deformity and determine the impact of splints/orthoses on strength, mobility and function in people with RA.

Search strategy: We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, the PEDro data base and Current Contents up to January 2002, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register to Issue 4, 2001 using the search strategy developed by the Cochrane Collaboration. Unpublished studies were sought by hand searching conference proceeding and contacting key experts.

Selection criteria: All randomized control trials (RCTs) and controlled clinical trials (CCTs), case-control and cohort studies comparing the use of specific orthoses against placebo, another active intervention (including another type of orthoses) or regular treatment were selected, according to an a priori protocol.

Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently selected the studies and abstracted data. The methodological quality of the RCTs and CCTs was assessed using a validated scale.

Main results: Twelve papers reporting on 10 studies met the inclusion criteria. These studies dealt with the following: working wrist splints (5), resting hand and wrist splints (2), special shoes and insoles (3). There is evidence that wearing working wrist splints statistically significantly decreases grip strength and does not affect pain, morning stiffness, pinch grip, quality of life after up to 6 months of regular wear. We found no evidence that resting wrist and hand splints change pain, grip strength, Ritchie Index or number of swollen joints. However, patients who wore these splints for 2 months reported that they preferred use to non-use and padded resting splints to unpadded ones. The one study of special shoes provided evidence of significant benefits of wearing extra-depth shoes for 2 months including less pain on walking and stair climbing and more minutes pain free walking time. Extra-depth shoes with semi-rigid insoles provided better pain relief than extra-depth shoes alone when worn over 12 weeks. Posted insoles prevented progression of hallux valgus angle but did not affect pain or function.

Reviewer's conclusions: There is insufficient evidence to make firm conclusions about the effectiveness of working wrist splints in decreasing pain or increasing function for people with RA. Potential adverse effects such as decreased range of motion do not seem to be an issue, although some of these splints decrease grip strength and dexterity. Similarly, preliminary evidence suggests that resting hand and wrist splints do not seem to affect range of motion or pain, although patients preferred wearing a resting splint to not wearing one. There is evidence that extra-depth shoes and molded insoles decreases pain on weight-bearing activities such as standing, walking and stair-climbing. Posted insoles may be effective in preventing progression of hallux abductus angle but do not appear to have an impact on pain.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / rehabilitation
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / therapy*
  • Controlled Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Hand Strength
  • Humans
  • Orthotic Devices*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Shoes
  • Splints*
  • Wrist Joint