Physical therapy is commonly prescribed for patients with lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS); however, little is known about its effectiveness.
The purpose of this study was to systematically review randomized controlled trials (RCTs), controlled trials, and cohort studies evaluating the effectiveness of physical therapy for LSS.
Studies were searched on electronic databases to January 2012.
Inclusion criteria were: clinical diagnosis of LSS with confirmatory imaging, evaluation of physical therapy treatment, presence of a comparison group, and outcomes of pain, disability, function, or quality of life.
Outcomes were extracted and, when possible, pooled using RevMan 5, a freely available review program from the Cochrane Library.
Ten studies were included: 5 RCTs, 2 controlled trials, 2 mixed-design studies, and 1 longitudinal cohort study. Pooled effects of 2 studies revealed that the addition of a physical therapy modality to exercise had no statistically significant effect on outcome. Pooled effects results of RCTs evaluating surgery versus physical therapy demonstrated that surgery was better than physical therapy for pain and disability at long term (2 years) only. Other results suggested that exercise is significantly better than no exercise, that cycling and body-weight–supported treadmill walking have similar effects, and that corsets are better than no corsets.
The limitations of this review include the low quality and small number of studies, as well as the heterogeneity in outcomes and treatments.
No conclusions could be drawn from the review regarding which physical therapy treatment is superior for LSS. There was low-quality evidence suggesting that modalities have no additional effect to exercise and that surgery leads to better long-term (2 years) outcomes for pain and disability, but not walking distance, than physical therapy in patients with LSS.