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wrist splint being installed and checked on a patient

Splinting for rehab

wrist with splint to restrict movement

After a sudden injury or a flare up of your chronic condition, you might be able to take it easy at first. Maybe you even applied the RICE method—rest, ice, compression and elevation.

But what happens when you need to return to regular activity? How do you make sure the injured area doesn’t move and make things worse?

Whether it’s prefabricated or custom-made, a properly placed splint can stabilize and protect your injury from further damage. Here’s all you need to know about splinting and how it could help you.

What is a splint?

A splint is a piece of medical equipment used to immobilize an injured part of the body, protecting it from further damage. Used after a surgery, fracture or other injury or for chronic conditions, splints can be purchased off the shelf (prefabricated) or custom designed to fit you. Splints can have parts made from neoprene, plastic, foam, metal or thermoplastic materials that can be heated, cut and molded to fit you.

Custom splinting gives your therapist a greater ability to isolate the specific joint that shouldn’t be moving, while allowing range of motion in surrounding joints, helping you avoid unnecessary stiffness. Therapists monitor your progress and make adjustments to your splint throughout your recovery.

Splinting is most commonly used on the upper extremities (such as your wrist or hand), but splints can also be made for your leg and neck.

leg splint being prepared

How does it help?

After injury or surgery, splinting can help you rest injured tissues and prevent deformities from developing as you heal. While in a splint, your range of motion for a particular joint is either restricted or prevented completely. It can decrease pain and swelling for both injuries and chronic conditions, as well as protecting the area from further soft tissue or neurovascular damage.

Along with fitting you for a splint, your therapist will also provide instructions on when to wear it and for how long.

Conditions treated with splinting

Splinting can be used to treat a wide range of injuries and conditions. It’s often used as a part of a comprehensive treatment plan involving other types of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Common conditions treated with splinting include:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hand fractures
  • Wrist fractures
  • Thumb fractures
  • Leg fractures
  • Thumb tendinopathy
  • Gamekeeper’s or skier’s thumb (UCL tear)
  • Shoulder dislocations
  • Trigger finger
  • Mallet finger
  • Post-surgical tendon repair
  • Repetitive strain injuries
  • Ligament sprains or instabilities
  • Boutonnière and swan neck deformities
  • Flexion contractures of the knee

splint installed on a wrist

Types of splints

There are many different types of splints, which vary in terms of the amount of movement they allow. Some of the most common types of splints include:

Mobilization splints

This splint is used to improve motion in stiff joints by applying a passive stretch to the joint and surrounding tissues. It’s often used in combination with range of motion and stretching exercises that are prescribed by a physiotherapist or occupational therapist.

Immobilization or resting splints

This splint is used to immobilize a joint and/or ligaments while the tissues heal. It prevents movement by keeping the injured area in a protected resting posture.

Static splints

This splint is used to provide support and a proper posture during daily activities and while you rest.

finger splint in place

4 types of finger splints

Finger splints are used to keep these vulnerable extremities in place while you heal from a finger sprain or break, or to help increase a limited range of motion from a chronic condition.

There are four main types of finger splints.

Buddy splints

Buddy splints involve taping two fingers together, above and below the injured joint. They are often used for injuries less serious than a fracture, such as when you jam your finger.

Static splints

Static finger splints hold your joint in a specific position, either completely straight or slightly bent. They’re often used to treat repetitive use injuries, fractures and tendon damage.

Stack splints

Stack splints treat injuries involving only the tip of your finger. They fit over the end of your finger and go down just past the first joint, so it can’t bend.

Dynamic splints

Dynamic splints are more complex, designed to stretch a joint with an adjustable, spring-loaded system. They’re often worn at night or while you’re resting, rather than during daily activities.

man with wrist splint using computer

Splinting for carpal tunnel syndrome

Splinting for carpal tunnel syndrome can help reduce pain, weakness and numbness or tingling in the hand and arm.

Splinting helps with carpal tunnel syndrome by keeping the wrist in a neutral position, so the pressure and pain stays at the lowest level. Pre-fabricated splints often feature a stiff metal piece, which can be removed and fit specifically for your wrist (so it arches over the carpal tunnel area) before replacing it back in the splint.

Wrist splints for carpal tunnel syndrome can be worn at night only or throughout the day during regular activities, but people often see better results from wearing the splint full-time.

Splinting for arthritis

Splinting can help your arthritis by providing support for a joint during daily activities and also letting it rest in a secure, neutral position when you’re not using it. For example, a wrist splint can help reduce pain and improve grip strength for those with rheumatoid arthritis.

broken wrist in a cast

Splinting vs. casting

While both are used to support and protect injuries to the bone, ligaments, tendons and other soft tissues, splints and casts are quite different. Casts are hard wraps that go all the way around an injury and cannot be removed without a doctor or other healthcare professional. On the other hand, splints may include a hard part, but it won’t wrap all the way around the injury. Splints can be removed or adjusted easily.

Your doctor and/or occupational therapist and/or physiotherapist will advise you which is right for your injury.