BACKGROUND: Cervical spondylosis causes pain and disability by compressing the spinal cord or roots. Surgery to relieve the compression may reduce the pain and disability, but is associated with a small but definite risk. We sought to assess the balance of risk and benefit from surgery. OBJECTIVES: To determine whether: 1) surgical treatment of cervical radiculopathy or myelopathy is associated with improved outcome, compared with conservative management and 2) timing of surgery (immediate or delayed upon persistence/progression of relevant symptoms and signs) has an impact on outcome. SEARCH STRATEGY: We searched Medline (between 1966 and 1998), Embase (between 1980 and 1998) and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register. Authors of the identified randomised controlled trials were contacted to detect any additional published or unpublished data. SELECTION CRITERIA: All unconfounded truly or quasi-randomised controlled trials allocating patients with cervical radiculopathy or myelopathy to 1) “best medical management” or “decompressive surgery (with or without some form of fusion) plus best medical management” 2) “early decompressive surgery” or “delayed decompressive surgery”. DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two reviewers independently selected trials for inclusion, assessed trial quality and extracted the data. MAIN RESULTS: Two trials involving a total of 130 patients were included. One trial with 81 patients compared surgical decompression with either physiotherapy or cervical collar immobilization in patients with cervical radiculopathy. The short-term effects of surgery, in terms of pain, weakness or sensory loss were superior, however, at one year no significant differences between groups were present. One trial with 49 patients compared the effects of surgery with those of conservative treatment in patients with mild functional deficit associated with cervical myelopathy. No significant differences were observed between groups, up to two years following treatment.