Background: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common disorder, for which several surgical treatment options are available.
Objectives: To compare the efficacy of the various surgical techniques in relieving symptoms and promoting return to work and/or activities of daily living and to compare the occurrence of side-effects and complications, in patients suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome.
Search strategy: We updated the searches in 2003. We conducted computer-aided searches of the trials register of the Cochrane Neuromuscular Disease Group (searched in July 2003), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (The Cochrane Library, Issue 2, 2003), MEDLINE (January 1966 to August 2003), EMBASE (January 1980 to August 2003) and tracked references in bibliographies.
Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials comparing various surgical techniques for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers performed study selection, assessment of methodological quality and data abstraction independently of each other.
Main results: Twenty-three studies were included in the review. The methodological quality of the trials was fair to good. However, the application of allocation concealment was mentioned explicitly in only one trial. Many studies failed to present the results in sufficient detail to enable statistical pooling. Pooling was also impeded by the vast variety of outcome measures that were applied in the various studies. None of the existing alternatives to standard open carpal tunnel release seem to offer better relief from symptoms in the short- or long-term. There was conflicting evidence about whether endoscopic carpal tunnel release resulted in earlier return to work and/or activities of daily living than open carpal tunnel release.
Reviewers' conclusions: There is no strong evidence supporting the need for replacement of standard open carpal tunnel release by existing alternative surgical procedures for the treatment of carpal tunnel syndrome.