Flexor tendon repair rehabilitation protocols: A systematic review

Harlan M. Starr, Mark Snoddy, Kyle E. Hammond, John G. Seiler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

91 Scopus citations


Purpose: To systematically review various flexor tendon rehabilitation protocols and to contrast those using early passive versus early active range of motion. Methods: We searched PubMed and Cochrane Library databases to identify articles involving flexor tendon injury, repair, and rehabilitation protocols. All zones of injury were included. Articles were classified based on the protocol used during early rehabilitation. We analyzed clinical outcomes, focusing on incidence of tendon rupture and postoperative functional range of motion. We also analyzed the chronological incidence of published tendon rupture with respect to the protocol used. Results: We identified 170 articles, and 34 met our criteria, with evidence ranging from level I to level IV. Early passive motion, including both Duran and Kleinert type protocols, results included 57 ruptures (4%) and 149 fingers (9%) with decreased range of motion of 1598 tendon repairs. Early active motion results included 75 ruptures (5%) and 80 fingers (6%) with decreased range of motion of 1412 tendon repairs. Early passive range of motion protocols had a statistically significantly decreased risk for tendon rupture but an increased risk for postoperative decreased range of motion compared to early active motion protocols. When analyzing published articles chronologically, we found a statistically significant trend that overall (passive and active rehabilitation) rupture rates have decreased over time. Conclusions: Analyzing all flexor tendon zones and literature of all levels of evidence, our data show a higher risk of complication involving decreased postoperative digit range of motion in the passive protocols and a higher risk of rupture in early active motion protocols. However, modern improvements in surgical technique, materials, and rehabilitation may now allow for early active motion rehabilitation that can provide better postoperative motion while maintaining low rupture rates. Type of study/level of evidence: Therapeutic IV.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1712-1717.e14
JournalJournal of Hand Surgery
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Early active motion
  • flexor tendon repair
  • postoperative care
  • rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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