What is a Custom Molded Splint?
It is a hand-made brace which is usually made from a thermoplastic material and requires the skill of a therapist to measure, trace, and adjust in order to accurately fit their patient’s hand. Custom splinting is used to either immobilize or mobilize structures to promote healing or function.
How is a Custom Molded Splint made?
While the procedure itself is fairly straightforward, the making of the splint takes a lot of expertise and practice. A hard sheet of thermoplastic material is used to create a pattern that is perfectly molded to the patients’ hand. This template is then heated to over 160° in order to allow the temperature-sensitive material to become flexible. After it cools down, the material is placed and molded directly on the patient, providing a fit matching the curves and contours of the client’s hand. Splinting is a very effective way to facilitate a patient’s recovery for a variety of conditions.
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Custom Splints vs. Over-the-Counter Splints
Over-the-counter splints, which can be found at drugstores or online stores, are typically available in small, medium, and large sizes. They are not created to specifically match your hand and can be difficult to adjust. By investing in a custom splint that is made to fit your hand specifically, you will be more likely to use the splint and to achieve better clinical outcomes.
Benefits of Custom Molded Splints
A common group of diagnoses for which splinting is indicated includes: tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, trigger finger, carpal tunnel syndrome, and many others. These types of conditions are caused by overuse of muscles that cross a specific joint or by compression caused by the joint itself. Wearing a splint prevents movement of the relevant joint which allows affected structures to rest, and along with a therapy program, can resolve symptoms. Splints that are specifically tailored to a patient’s functional limitations can make a difference in a person’s life by relieving pain, stabilizing joints, and protecting vulnerable tissues. This, in turn, promotes physical well-being.
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Additional benefits from splinting can be found in those with degenerative arthritis. Osteoarthritis often first manifests at the joint located at the base of the thumb, also known as the carpometacarpal (CMC) joint. The CMC is used excessively in our daily lives, especially for those that have occupations that require the forceful use of the thumb (like hand therapists). This joint can break down over time, leading to joint instability and pain. A custom splint provides the external support the thumb needs to compensate for the internal support the joint no longer provides. Patients often notice immediate pain relief with the use of a splint and, with accompanying education from the therapist, become more functional with daily activities.
Though splinting can be highly effective for a wide variety of conditions, it is only a supplement to treatment. Long-term splint usage is rarely indicated and should be discontinued based on healing and symptoms. Splint wear without a therapy program can lead to joint stiffness, weakness, and other problems. Splinting can prevent further injury, but does not repair the body. Splinting and a comprehensive therapy program work hand-in-glove to resolve the underlying pathology while preventing further structural damage. The art of Custom Splinting has changed drastically over the past several years. With advanced qualities of the thermoplastic material and splinting accessories, along with increased knowledge of biomechanics and theory, wrist and hand splinting has become an effective and important part of therapeutic treatment for upper extremity disorders.