Lumbar spinal stenosis. Treatment strategies and indications for surgery

Orthop Clin North Am. 2003 Apr;34(2):281-95. doi: 10.1016/s0030-5898(02)00069-x.


Initially, all patients with degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis should be treated conservatively. Rapid deterioration is unlikely. The majority of patients may either improve or remain stable over a long-term follow-up with nonoperative treatment. Surgery should be an elective decision by the patients who fail to improve after conservative treatment. Medical evaluation is mandatory in those elderly patients with frequent comorbidities. For central spinal stenosis, without significant grade I spondylolisthesis or deformity, decompression is the surgical treatment of choice. Iatrogenic instability must be avoided during decompression surgery by preserving the facet joint and the pars interarticularis. Limited decompression with laminotomy may be indicated for lateral canal stenosis. A limited decompression may avoid postoperative instability but is associated with more frequent neurologic sequelae. Postlaminectomy instability is uncommon, and too little decompression is a more frequent mistake than too much. Decompression is usually associated with good or excellent outcome in 80% of patients. Deterioration of initial post-operative improvement may occur over long-term follow-up. When spinal stenosis is associated with instability, degenerative spondylolisthesis, deformity, postoperative instability, or recurrent stenosis, fusion is often recommended. Instrumentation often improves the fusion rate but does not influence the clinical outcome. Generous decompression but selective fusion of the unstable segment only are preferable for degenerative spondylolisthesis and type I degenerative scoliosis with minimal rotation of the spine.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Orthopedic Procedures*
  • Patient Selection
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spinal Stenosis / diagnosis
  • Spinal Stenosis / surgery*
  • Spinal Stenosis / therapy*