QUESTION: In people with carpal tunnel syndrome who are waitlisted for surgical consultation, does a therapist-led care pathway involving education, splinting and exercises reduce the need for surgery and improve patient outcomes? DESIGN: A multicentre, randomised controlled trial with concealed allocation, blinded assessment and intention-to-treat analysis. PARTICIPANTS: One hundred and five people with electrodiagnostically confirmed carpal tunnel syndrome on a waitlist for surgical consultation and recruited from four public hospitals in Australia. INTERVENTIONS: The experimental group (n = 52) received a one-off group session of education, splinting, and nerve and tendon gliding exercises. The control group (n = 53) continued on the waitlist without additional care. OUTCOME MEASURES: The primary outcome measures were conversion to surgery by 24 weeks, the global rating of change (GROC) scale and patient satisfaction. Secondary outcomes included symptom severity and functional limitation. RESULTS: At 24 weeks, conversion to surgery was 59% in the experimental group and 80% in the control group (risk difference -0.21, 95% CI -0.38 to -0.03). More participants in the experimental group identified as improved at 6 weeks (20% vs 4%; risk difference 0.15, 95% CI 0.03 to 0.28) but not at 24 weeks (24% vs 10%; risk difference 0.14, 95% CI -0.01 to 0.29). The intervention was also estimated to be beneficial on some measures of satisfaction, symptom severity and functional limitation. The study's estimates of the benefits came with some uncertainty, which makes it unclear whether the wider population of people awaiting carpal tunnel surgery would consider that the benefits make the intervention worthwhile. No serious adverse effects were reported. CONCLUSIONS: A therapist-led pathway reduced conversion to carpal tunnel surgery and increased perceived improvement and satisfaction in people who were already on a waitlist for surgical consultation. REGISTRATION: ACTRN12613001095752.
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Carpal tunnel syndrome, Occupational therapy, Physical therapy, Rehabilitation, Surgery