A prospective cohort study of patients with lumbar spinal stenosis recruited from the practices of orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons throughout Maine.

To assess 1-year outcomes of patients with lumbar spinal stenosis treated surgically or nonsurgically.

No randomized trials and few nonexperimental studies have compared surgical and nonsurgical treatment of patients with lumbar spinal stenosis. The authors' goal was to assess 1-year outcomes of patients with lumbar spinal stenosis treated surgically or nonsurgically.

Eligible, consenting patients participated in baseline interviews and were then mailed follow-up questionnaires at 3, 6, and 12 months. Clinical data were obtained from a physician questionnaire. Outcomes included patient-reported symptoms of leg and back pain, functional status, disability, and satisfaction with care.

One hundred forty-eight patients with lumbar spinal stenosis were enrolled, of whom 81 were treated surgically and 67 treated nonsurgically. On average, patients in the surgical group had more severe imaging findings and symptoms and worse functional status than patients in the nonsurgical group at entry. Few patients with mild symptoms were treated surgically, and few patients with severe symptoms were treated nonsurgically. However, of the patients with moderate symptoms, a similar percent were treated surgically or nonsurgically. One year after study entry, 28% of nonsurgically and 55% of surgically treated patients reported definite improvement in their predominant symptoms (P = 0.003). For patients with moderate symptoms, outcomes for surgically treated patients were also improved compared with those of nonsurgically treated patients. Surgical treatment remained a significant determinant of 1-year outcome, even after adjustment for differences between treatment groups at entry (P = 0.05). The maximal benefit of surgery was observed by the time of the first follow-up evaluation, which was at 3 months. Although few nonsurgically treated patients experienced a worsening of their condition, there was little improvement in symptoms and functional status compared with study entry.

At a 1-year evaluation of patient-reported outcomes, patients with severe lumbar spinal stenosis who were treated surgically had greater improvement than patients treated nonsurgically. Comparisons of outcomes by treatment received must be made cautiously because of differences in baseline characteristics. A determination of whether the outcomes observed persist requires long-term follow-up.

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