"It's a well-tolerated, safe and cheap
intervention," rheumatologist Dr. Fiona Watt told Reuters Health.
Watt, from the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Osteoarthritis
Pathogenesis at the University of Oxford, led the new study. She and
her colleagues tested custom-made splints on London clinic patients
who suffered painful and deforming hand osteoarthritis.
Up to 70 percent of adults 55 years and older have hand
osteoarthritis, the authors write in the journal Rheumatology. The
condition can include episodes of persistent and debilitating pain,
limit hand use and erode quality of life.
Previous research has shown splints cut hand arthritis pain (see
Reuters Health story of January 27, 2011 here: reut.rs/1hz5IAe). One
study found that hand pain was halved for patients who wore a long
and rigid splint every night for a year.
In the current study, hand therapists fashioned rigid splints out of
$5 to $6 worth of thermoplastic for one arthritic finger joint per
patient, and patients wore the splints nightly while sleeping for
three months, Watt said.
Twenty-six patients, mostly women, were included in the study. Of
the 23 who completed the study, 17, or 74 percent, reported reduced
pain after wearing the splints for three months, the study found.
Three months after patients stopped wearing the splints, their
average pain was significantly lower in splinted joints than in
their other arthritic finger joints that had not been splinted.
Watt said she was surprised to see continued benefits three months
after patients stopped using the splints.
"It might suggest that this is a modification of the disease that
extends beyond the use of the splint," she said.
The majority of the patients, 61 percent, chose to continue to use
the splints when the study was completed, "which is a good sign,
probably better than any statistics," Watt said.
[to top of second column]
Dr. Prosper Benhaim, hand surgery chief at UCLA Medical Center in
Los Angeles, told Reuters Health he had successfully used similar
splints on his patients' thumbs.
Benhaim was not involved in the new research and has not splinted
his patients' farthest finger joints, as was done in the current
study. But he said the study convinced him to try.
"Wearing a splint when you're sleeping actually seems to work," he
said. "It's so simple. When you're asleep, it's free time. There's
Why splinting relieves arthritic pain is not well understood, the
study authors write.
Benhaim believes nighttime splints work because they reduce
inflammation. Arthritis stems from a combination of inflammation and
a loss of cartilage.
"It just repositions the fingers into a more relaxed position,"
He said a Popsicle stick and a Band-Aid could work just as well as
the thermoplastic splints used in the new study.
But a doctor or a physical therapist will know best how to size and
fit a splint, he said.
Rheumatology, online February 8, 2014.
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