Evaluation of a Grip-Strengthening Algorithm for the Initial Treatment of Chronic, Nonspecific Wrist Pain in Adolescents

J Hand Surg Glob Online. 2021 Oct 22;4(1):8-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jhsg.2021.09.001. eCollection 2022 Jan.


Purpose: Chronic, nonspecific wrist pain in adolescents can be challenging to assess and treat. We hypothesized that an algorithmic approach beginning with grip strengthening can alleviate pain, improve function, and identify patients in need of further intervention.

Methods: We retrospectively reviewed the results of a grip-strengthening protocol for adolescents with chronic, nonspecific wrist pain. Before and after treatment, grip strength was measured using handheld dynamometry, and patient-reported pain and function were measured using the adolescent self-reported Pediatric Outcomes Data Collection Instrument's (PODCI's) Pain/Comfort and Upper Extremity Function domains (PODCI/pain and PODCI/UE, respectively).

Results: Thirty-two patients (28 female, 4 male) were included, with a mean age of 14 years (range, 10-18 years) and the dominant hand affected in 19, nondominant hand in 9, and bilateral impacts in 4. The mean symptom duration prior to presentation was 9 months (range, 1-63 months); 17 patients had undergone prior immobilization and 5 prior occupational/physical therapy. Grip-strengthening treatment, lasting a mean of 40 days (range, 21-82 days) with a median of 4 therapy visits (range, 2-6), was associated with significantly improved grip strength (mean, 32-48 lbs), PODCI/pain scores (mean, 49.0-78.2 points), and PODCI/UE scores (mean, 78.2-91.2 points). Improvements in grip strength correlated with improvements in PODCI/pain and PODCI/UE scores (r = 0.64 and 0.70, respectively). Eight patients (25%) had either no or incomplete pain relief: 5 underwent successful further intervention (2 ganglion cyst excisions, 1 triangular fibrocartilage complex repair, 1 arthroscopic debridement, 1 steroid injection), 2 received ongoing pain management for generalized pain syndromes, and 1 was lost to further follow-up. No pretreatment variables were identified that predicted failure.

Conclusions: Grip strengthening relieves pain and improves function in the majority of adolescents with chronic, nonspecific wrist pain. Systematic use of this protocol helps to identify patients who require further intervention.

Type of study/level of evidence: Therapeutic IV.

Keywords: Grip strengthening; Occupational therapy; Wrist pain.