Conservative treatment of cubital tunnel syndrome: A systematic review

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Sahil Kooner
David Cinats
Cory Kwong
Graeme Drew Matthewson *
Gurpreet Dhaliwal
(*) Corresponding Author:
Graeme Drew Matthewson |


Cubital tunnel syndrome (CuTS) is one of the most common compression neuropathies of the upper extremity. Conservative management of cubital tunnel syndrome is often considered first line therapy for mild or moderate symptoms; however, there is little evidence-based literature to guide physicians in this regard. As such, the objective of this study is to complete a comprehensive literature search of the conservative therapies available for treatment of CuTS. Additionally, we hope to assess the evidence for each therapy so that we can make evidence-based recommendations regarding the type and duration of optimal treatment. The databases MEDLINE, EMBASE, and CINAHL were search using a sensitive search strategy. Eligibility for studies included any studies or conference abstracts in which patients were treated conservatively for primary CuTS. Any form of non-operative treatment was acceptable. A data extraction form was developed to collect all information and outcomes of interest, including study design, level of evidence, number of patients, treatment modalities, follow-up time, patient reported outcomes, and electrophysiological markers. Qualitative and quantitative analysis was then completed based on the data extraction form. Given the heterogeneity of the included studies, results were summarized as best evidence available. Our sensitive literature search produced 6484 studies. Initial screening based on title and abstract resulted in the selection of 40 studies that underwent full text review. From these 19 studies were included for analysis in our systematic review. There were 3 level I studies, 4 level II studies, 3 level III studies, and 9 level IV studies. In total this included 844 patients. The most commonly reported outcomes included subjective patient reported outcomes and nerve conduction studies. The most common treatment modalities, from most to least common, included education and activity modification, splinting, steroid/lidocaine injection, nerve mobilization/gliding, pulsed ultrasound, laser therapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and physiotherapy. The most common duration of therapy was 3 months with a median follow-up time of 3 months. There was moderate strength evidence to recommend the use of education/activity modification or splinting in mild or moderate CuTS. There is a paucity of literature and high-quality studies regarding the conservative management of CuTS. Regardless, there appears to be a role for non-operative management in CuTS, although further studies are needed to delineate this role further. In the cases of mild or moderate CuTS it is reasonable to trial education/activity modification or splinting as both appear to be equally effective.

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