BACKGROUND: Lumbar spinal stenosis is the most common reason for spinal surgery in elderly patients. However, the surgical management of spinal stenosis is controversial. The aim of this review was to list aspects a surgeon considers when choosing a specific type of treatment.
METHODS: Appraisal of arguments reported in randomized controlled trials (RCTs) included in systematic reviews published or indexed in the Cochrane library studying surgical treatments in patients with spinal stenosis.
RESULTS: Eight out of nine RCTs listed arguments for the choice of their treatments under investigation. The argument for decompression alone was the high success rate, the argument against was a potential increase in vertebral instability. The argument for decompression and fusion without instrumentation was that it is a well-established technique with a high fusion success rate, the argument against it was that the indication for fusion in spinal stenosis has remained unclear. The argument for decompression and fusion with instrumentation was an increased fusion rate compared to decompression and fusion without instrumentation, the argument against this was that the invasive procedure is associated with more complications.
CONCLUSIONS: The main argument identified in this appraisal for and against decompression alone in patient with lumbar spinal stenosis was whether or not instability should be treated with (instrumented) fusion procedures. However, there is disagreement on how instability should be defined. In a first step it is important that researchers and clinicians agree on definitions for important key concepts such as instability and reoperations.