To describe and evaluate the design and effects of splints and exercise programs in hand osteoarthritis.


Controlled trials identified through systematic literature reviews were included. Design of splints and exercise programs were evaluated according to existing recommendations and classification systems. The risk of bias was assessed by 2 independent reviewers and effects were summarized descriptively or by meta-analyses.


Twelve trials were included in the review: 7 assessed the effect of splints, 3 the effect of exercises, and 2 a combination of splints and exercises. The results revealed a great variety in the design of splint and exercise programs. A meta-analysis of the 2 randomized trials with low risk of bias demonstrated that splints significantly reduced hand pain at short-term (<3 months) and long-term (≥3 months) followup, with a standardized mean difference of 0.37 (95% confidence interval [95% CI] 0.03, 0.71) and 0.80 (95% CI 0.45, 1.15), respectively. Further, results from single trials indicated that hand exercises may reduce pain and increase range of motion and strength, while a combination of splints and daily exercises may reduce pain and stiffness and improve function.


There is consistent evidence that splints reduce hand pain, but limited evidence for the effects of hand exercises and a combination of hand exercises and splints in hand osteoarthritis.