Objective: To assess the value of the history and physical examination findings in the diagnosis of symptomatic degenerative lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS).
Methods: The study was performed in 3 specialty clinics, and included patients with low back pain who were at least age 40. Findings from a standardized history and physical examination were compared with the diagnostic impression of expert attending clinicians. Imaging studies were available in 88% of those with LSS, and the findings further supported the diagnosis of LSS in each case. The sensitivity, specificity, and likelihood ratio associated with each history and physical examination finding were calculated in bivariate analyses, and independent correlates of LSS were identified with multivariate analyses.
Results: Ninety-three patients were evaluated. History findings most strongly associated with the diagnosis of LSS (likelihood ratio > or = 2) were greater age, severe lower-extremity pain, and absence of pain when seated. Physical examination findings most strongly associated with the diagnosis were wide-based gait, abnormal Romberg test result, thigh pain following 30 seconds of lumbar extension, and neuromuscular deficits. Independent correlates of LSS included advanced age (P = 0.0001), absence of pain when seated (P = 0.006), wide-based gait (P = 0.013), and thigh pain following 30 seconds of lumbar extension (P = 0.002).
Conclusion: Specific history and physical examination findings are useful in the diagnosis of LSS and should be ascertained routinely in older patients with low back pain.