|Background: Splinting after contracture release for Dupuytren's disease of the hand is widely advocated among therapists. Although a majority of therapists use splinting, there is a wide variation in how frequently it is applied.
Objective: The purpose of this systematic review was to evaluate the quantity and quality of evidence regarding the effectiveness of splinting in the post-surgical management of Dupuytren's contractures.
Search strategies: Studies were identified using several electronic databases (Medline, AMED, CINAHL and EMBASE) and the following search terms: Dupuytren's contracture, splints or splinting.
Selection criteria: Studies were included if they met the following inclusion criteria: prospective or retrospective, experimental, quasi-experimental or observational studies investigating the effectiveness of static or dynamic splints worn day and/or night-time for at least 6 weeks after surgery and reporting either individual joint or composite finger range of motion and/or hand function.
Data collection and analysis: The methodological quality of the selected articles was independently assessed by the two authors using the guidelines for evaluating the quality of intervention studies developed by McDermid (2004).
Main results: Four studies, with sample sizes ranging from 23 to 268, met the inclusion criteria for the systematic review. Designs included retrospective case review, prospective observational and one controlled trial without randomization. Interventions included dynamic and static splinting with a mean follow-up ranging from 9 weeks to 2 years. Pooling of results was not possible due to the heterogeneity of interventions (splint type, duration and wearing regimen) and the way outcomes were reported.
Conclusions: There is empirical evidence to support the use of low load prolonged stretch through splinting after hand surgery and trauma, however only a few studies have investigated this specifically in Dupuytren's contracture. The low level evidence regarding the effect of post-operative static and dynamic splints on final extension deficit in severe PIP joint contracture (>40°) is equivocal, as is the effect of patient adherence on outcome. Whilst total active extension deficit improved in some patients wearing a splint there were also deficits in composite finger flexion and hand function. The lack of data on the magnitude of this effect makes it difficult to interpret whether this is of clinical significance. There is a need for well-designed controlled trials with proper randomization to evaluate the short-term and long-term effectiveness of splinting following Dupuytren's surgery.