The results of lumbar fusion in chronic low back pain (LBP) patients vary considerably, and there is a need for proper patient selection. Lumbosacral orthoses have been widely used to predict outcome, however, with little scientific support. The aim of the present study was to determine the value of a pantaloon cast test in selecting chronic LBP patients for lumbar fusion or conservative management. First, a systematic review of the literature was carried out in which two independent reviewers identified studies in Medline, Cochrane and Current Contents databases. Three papers met the selection criteria. In the only study with a control group, a significantly better outcome after fusion compared to conservative treatment was found in patients who reported significant pain relief while in a cast (i.e. a positive cast test). The results of lumbar fusion, however, were not significantly different for patients with a positive and those with a negative cast test. In addition to the review, a clinical cohort study of 257 LBP patients, who had been allocated to either lumbar fusion or conservative management by a temporary external transpedicular fixation trial, was performed. Prior to allocation, all had undergone a pantaloon cast test. Patients with no history of prior spine surgery and with a positive pantaloon cast test had a better outcome after lumbar fusion than those treated conservatively (P = 0.002, chi (2 )test). In patients with previous spine operations the outcomes were poor and the test was of no value. From the literature and the present patient cohort, it was concluded that only in chronic LBP patients without prior spine surgery, a pantaloon cast test with substantial pain relief suggests a favorable outcome of lumbar fusion compared to conservative management. The test has no value in patients who have had previous spine surgery.