Background Malignancy-associated spinal cord compression is generally treated by surgical decompression, radiotherapy or a combination of both. Since diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) is highly sensitive to both chemotherapy and radiotherapy, the role of surgical decompression in the treatment of DLBCL-associated spinal cord compression remains unclear. We therefore conducted a retrospective review to investigate the impact of surgical decompression on recovery from neurological deficit caused by DLBCL-associated spinal cord compression and patients’ overall survival. Methods Between March 2001 and September 2011, 497 newly diagnosed DLBCL patients were reviewed, and 11 cases had DLBCL-associated spinal cord compression. Six cases were treated surgically and five cases nonsurgically. Results The rates of complete recovery from neurological deficit were 100% (6/6) and 20% (1/5) for patients in the surgical and nonsurgical groups, respectively (P = 0.015), while the median survival for patients in the surgical and nonsurgical groups was 48.6 months and 17.8 months, respectively (P = 0.177). Conclusions We conclude that surgical decompression can improve recovery from neurological deficit in patients with DLBCL-associated spinal cord compression, possibly providing these patients a survival benefit.