Importance: Lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) is the most common reason for spine surgery in older US adults. There is an evidence gap about nonsurgical LSS treatment options. Objective: To explore the comparative clinical effectiveness of 3 nonsurgical interventions for patients with LSS. Design, Setting, and Participants: Three-arm randomized clinical trial of 3 years' duration (November 2013 to June 2016). Analysis began in August 2016. All interventions were delivered during 6 weeks with follow-up at 2 months and 6 months at an outpatient research clinic. Patients older than 60 years with LSS were recruited from the general public. Eligibility required anatomical evidence of central canal and/or lateral recess stenosis (magnetic resonance imaging/computed tomography) and clinical symptoms associated with LSS (neurogenic claudication; less symptoms with flexion). Analysis was intention to treat. Interventions: Medical care, group exercise, and manual therapy/individualized exercise. Medical care consisted of medications and/or epidural injections provided by a physiatrist. Group exercise classes were supervised by fitness instructors in senior community centers. Manual therapy/individualized exercise consisted of spinal mobilization, stretches, and strength training provided by chiropractors and physical therapists. Main Outcomes and Measures: Primary outcomes were between-group differences at 2 months in self-reported symptoms and physical function measured by the Swiss Spinal Stenosis questionnaire (score range, 12-55) and a measure of walking capacity using the self-paced walking test (meters walked for 0 to 30 minutes). Results: A total of 259 participants (mean [SD] age, 72.4 [7.8] years; 137 women [52.9%]) were allocated to medical care (88 [34.0%]), group exercise (84 [32.4%]), or manual therapy/individualized exercise (87 [33.6%]). Adjusted between-group analyses at 2 months showed manual therapy/individualized exercise had greater improvement of symptoms and physical function compared with medical care (-2.0; 95% CI, -3.6 to -0.4) or group exercise (-2.4; 95% CI, -4.1 to -0.8). Manual therapy/individualized exercise had a greater proportion of responders (≥30% improvement) in symptoms and physical function (20%) and walking capacity (65.3%) at 2 months compared with medical care (7.6% and 48.7%, respectively) or group exercise (3.0% and 46.2%, respectively). At 6 months, there were no between-group differences in mean outcome scores or responder rates. Conclusions and Relevance: A combination of manual therapy/individualized exercise provides greater short-term improvement in symptoms and physical function and walking capacity than medical care or group exercises, although all 3 interventions were associated with improvements in long-term walking capacity. Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01943435.
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