Randomized trial and concurrent observational cohort study.

To compare 4 year outcomes of surgery to nonoperative care for spinal stenosis.

Surgery for spinal stenosis has been shown to be more effective compared to nonoperative treatment over 2 years, but longer-term data have not been analyzed.

Surgical candidates from 13 centers in 11 US states with at least 12 weeks of symptoms and confirmatory imaging were enrolled in a randomized cohort (RC) or observational cohort (OC). Treatment was standard decompressive laminectomy or standard nonoperative care. Primary outcomes were SF-36 bodily pain (BP) and physical function scales and the modified Oswestry Disability index assessed at 6 weeks, 3 months, 6 months, and yearly up to 4 years.

A total of 289 patients enrolled in the RC and 365 patients enrolled in the OC. An as-treated analysis combining the RC and OC and adjusting for potential confounders found that the clinically significant advantages for surgery previously reported were maintained through 4 years, with treatment effects (defined as mean change in surgery group minus mean change in nonoperative group) for bodily pain 12.6 (95% confidence interval [CI], 8.5-16.7); physical function 8.6 (95% CI, 4.6-12.6); and Oswestry Disability index -9.4 (95% CI, -12.6 to -6.2). Early advantages for surgical treatment for secondary measures such as bothersomeness, satisfaction with symptoms, and self-rated progress were also maintained.

Patients with symptomatic spinal stenosis treated surgically compared to those treated nonoperatively maintain substantially greater improvement in pain and function through 4 years.

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