Objective: Wrist-hand orthoses (WHOs) are prescribed for a range of musculoskeletal/neurological conditions to optimise wrist/hand position at rest and enhance performance by controlling its range of motion (ROM), improving alignment, reducing pain, and optimising grip strength. The objective of this research was to study the efficacy and functionality of ten commercially available WHOs on wrist ROM and grip strength.
Design: Randomised comparative functional study of the wrist/hand with and without WHOs.
Participants: Ten right-handed female participants presenting with no underlying condition nor pain affecting the wrist/hand which could influence motion or grip strength. Each participant randomly tested ten WHOs; one per week, for 10 weeks.
Main outcome measures: The primary outcome was to ascertain the impact of WHOs on wrist resting position and flexion, extension, radial, and ulnar deviation. A secondary outcome was the impact of the WHOs on maximum grip strength and associated wrist position when this was attained.
Results: From the 2,400 tests performed it was clear that no WHO performed effectively or consistently across participants. The optimally performing WHO for flexion control was #3 restricting 86.7%, #4 restricting 76.7% of extension, #9 restricting 83.5% of radial deviation, and #4 maximally restricting ulnar deviation. A grip strength reduction was observed with all WHOs, and ranged from 1.7% (#6) to 34.2% (#4).
Conclusion: WHOs did not limit movement sufficiently to successfully manage any condition requiring motion restriction associated with pain relief. The array of motion control recorded might be a contributing factor for the current conflicting evidence of efficacy for WHOs. Any detrimental impact on grip strength will influence the types of activities undertaken by the wearer. The design aspects impacting wrist motion and grip strength are multifactorial, including: WHO geometry; the presence of a volar bar; material of construction; strap design; and quality of fit. This study raises questions regarding the efficacy of current designs of prefabricated WHOs which have remained unchanged for several decades but continue to be used globally without a robust evidence-base to inform clinical practise and the prescription of these devices. These findings justify the need to re-design WHOs with the goal of meeting users' needs.