Study design: A prospective observational cohort study.
Objective: To assess long-term outcomes of patients with lumbar spinal stenosis treated surgically or nonsurgically.
Summary of background data: The relative benefit of various treatments for lumbar spinal stenosis is uncertain. Surgical treatment has been associated with short-term improvement, but recurrence of symptoms has been documented. Few studies have compared long-term outcomes of surgical and nonsurgical treatments.
Methods: Patients recruited from the practices of orthopaedic surgeons, neurosurgeons, and occupational medicine physicians throughout Maine had baseline interviews with follow-up questionnaires mailed at regular intervals over 10 years. Clinical data were obtained at baseline from a physician questionnaire. Most patients initially undergoing surgery had a laminectomy without fusion performed. Outcomes including patient-reported symptoms of leg and back pain, functional status, and satisfaction were assessed at 8- to 10-year follow-up. Primary analyses were based on initial treatment received with secondary analyses examining actual treatment received by 10 years.
Results: Of 148 eligible consenting patients initially enrolled, 105 were alive after 10 years (67.7% survival rate). Among surviving patients, long-term follow-up between 8 and 10 years was available for 97 of 123 (79%) patients (including 11 patients who died before the 10-year follow-up but completed a 8 or 9 year survey); 56 of 63 (89%) initially treated surgically and 41 of 60 (68%) initially treated nonsurgically. Patients undergoing surgery had worse baseline symptoms and functional status than those initially treated nonsurgically. Outcomes at 1 and 4 years favored initial surgical treatment. After 8 to 10 years, a similar percentage of surgical and nonsurgical patients reported that their low back pain was improved(53% vs. 50%, P = 0.8), their predominant symptom (either back or leg pain) was improved (54% vs. 42%, P = 0.3), and they were satisfied with their current status (55% vs. 49%, P = 0.5). These treatment group findings persisted after adjustment for other determinants of outcome in multivariate models. However, patients initially treated surgically reported less severe leg pain symptoms and greater improvement in back-specific functional status after 8 to 10 years than nonsurgically treated patients. By 10 years, 23% of surgical patients had undergone at least one additional lumbar spine operation, and 39% of nonsurgical patients had at least one lumbar spine operation. Patients undergoing subsequent surgical procedures had worse outcomes than those continuing with their initial treatment. Outcomes according to actual treatment received at 10 years did not differ because individuals undergoing additional surgical procedures had worse outcomes than those continuing with their initial treatment.
Conclusions: Among patients with lumbar spinal stenosis completing 8- to 10-year follow-up, low back pain relief, predominant symptom improvement, and satisfaction with the current state were similar in patients initially treated surgically or nonsurgically. However, leg pain relief and greater back-related functional status continued to favor those initially receiving surgical treatment. These results support a shared decision-making approach among physicians and patients when considering treatment options for lumbar spinal stenosis.