Effect of splinting and exercise on intraneural edema of the median nerve in carpal tunnel syndrome--an MRI study to reveal therapeutic mechanisms

J Orthop Res. 2012 Aug;30(8):1343-50. doi: 10.1002/jor.22064. Epub 2012 Jan 9.


Splinting and nerve and tendon gliding exercises are commonly used to treat carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS). It has been postulated that both modalities reduce intraneural edema. To test this hypothesis, 20 patients with mild to moderate CTS were randomly allocated to either night splinting or a home program of nerve and tendon gliding exercises. Magnetic resonance images of the wrist were taken at baseline, immediately after 10 min of splinting or exercise, and following 1 week of intervention. Primary outcome measures were signal intensity of the median nerve at the wrist as a measure of intraneural edema and palmar bowing of the carpal ligament. Secondary outcome measures were changes in symptom severity and function. Following 1 week of intervention, but not immediately after 10 min, signal intensity of the median nerve was reduced by ≈ 11% at the radioulnar level for both interventions (p = 0.03). This was accompanied by a mild improvement in symptoms and function (p < 0.004). A similar reduction in signal intensity is not observed in patients who only receive advice to remain active. No changes in signal intensity were identified further distally (p > 0.28). Ligament bowing remained unchanged (p > 0.08). Intraneural edema reduction is a likely therapeutic mechanism of splinting and exercise.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome / rehabilitation
  • Exercise
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Median Nerve / pathology
  • Median Nerve / physiopathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pain Measurement
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Splints
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Wrist / pathology
  • Wrist / physiopathology
  • Wrist Joint / physiopathology