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Can exercise give better results after spinal surgery for spinal stenosis?

McGregor AH, Probyn K, Cro S, Doré CJ, Burton A, Balagué F, Pincus T, Fairbank J
Published Online: 
9 December 2013

Spinal stenosis occurs when the canal that the spinal nerves go through narrows and presses on nerves, causing pain in the back or legs. It tends to happen more often in older people. Surgery can help reduce the pressure, but although most patients find that their leg pain improves, back pain isn't always helped, and people still have problems carrying out everyday tasks. This review was done to find out whether a supervised  programme of exercise (a rehabilitation programme) after surgery was more helpful for patients in their everyday lives than the usual advice to stay active.

We found that very little work had been done in this area; only three studies were suitable for inclusion. More than 300 participants were included in all. Each study involved a rehabilitation programme between 30 and 90 minutes long, provided once or twice weekly and starting six to 12 weeks after surgery.

We found that specially designed exercise programmes for people who have had back decompression surgery can help to reduce back pain and can improve their ability to carry out everyday tasks. This was true both in the short term (within six months of surgery) and over the long term (at 12 months). Because only three studies were suitable to be included, we cannot be certain that future studies will not change these conclusions.

This record should be cited as: 
McGregor AH, Probyn K, Cro S, Doré CJ, Burton A, Balagué F, Pincus T, Fairbank J. Rehabilitation following surgery for lumbar spinal stenosis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 12. Art. No.: CD009644. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD009644.pub2
Assessed as up to date: 
1 March 2013