Lumbar spinal stenosis (LSS) is one of the most common indications for surgery in the USA. The addition of instrumented fusion to decompression for the treatment of LSS has become common, but recent randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have produced percieved conflicting results with unclear clinical implications. This review seeks clarity through an analysis of available RCTs. We performed a search of the PubMed database for RCTs that directly addressed decompression vs. decompression and fusion for the surgical treatment of LSS. RCTs were screened and reviewed to compare content such as patient selection, pathology, radiographic criteria, and operative technique. Five RCTs resulted from our search and were included in our analysis. Two studies yielded class I data while three yielded class III data due to study design related issues. Heterogeneity between these studies is emphasized with regard to patient selection, LSS definition, spondylolisthesis, instability, and surgical technique. Efforts to decipher which patients will truly benefit from instrumented fusion for the surgical treatment of LSS are still ongoing. Surgeon judgment will remain a crucial component for surgical decision making until future trials provide clarity. Instrumented fusion should be tailored to the individual patient rather than incorporated as a routine practice.
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