Rotational atherectomy is used to debulk calcified or complex coronary stenoses. Whether aggressive burr sizing with minimal balloon dilation (<1 atm) to limit deep wall arterial injury improves results is unknown. Patients being considered for elective rotational atherectomy were randomized to either an "aggressive" strategy (n = 249) (maximum burr/artery >0.70 alone, or with adjunctive balloon inflation < or = 1 atm), or a "routine" strategy (n = 248) (maximum burr/artery < or =0.70 and routine balloon inflation > or =4 atm). Patient age was 62 +/- 11 years. Fifty-nine percent routine and 60% aggressive strategy patients had class III to IV angina. Fifteen percent routine and 16% aggressive strategy patients had a restenotic lesion treated; lesion length was 13.6 versus 13.7 mm. Reference vessel diameter was 2.64 mm. Maximum burr size (1.8 vs 2.1 mm), burr/artery ratio (0.71 vs 0.82), and number of burrs used (1.9 vs 2.7) were greater for the aggressive strategy, p <0.0001. Final minimum lumen diameter and residual stenosis were 1.97 mm and 26% for the routine strategy versus 1.95 mm and 27% for the aggressive strategy. Clinical success was 93.5% for the routine strategy and 93.9% for the aggressive strategy. Creatine kinase-myocardial band (CK-MB) was >5 times normal in 7% of the routine versus 11% of the aggressive group. CK-MB elevation was associated with a decrease in rpm of >5,000 from baseline for a cumulative time >5 seconds, p = 0.002. At 6 months, 22% of the routine patients versus 31% of the aggressive strategy patients had target lesion revascularization. Angiographic follow-up (77%) showed minimum lumen diameter to be 1.26 mm in the routine group versus 1.16 mm in the aggressive group, and the loss index 0.54 versus 0.62. Dichotomous restenosis was 52% for the routine strategy versus 58% for the aggressive strategy. Multivariable analysis indicated that left anterior descending location (odds ratio 1.67, p = 0.02) and operator-reported excessive speed decrease >5,000 rpm (odds ratio 1.74, p = 0.01) were significantly associated with restenosis. Thus, the aggressive rotational atherectomy strategy offers no advantage over more routine burr sizing plus routine angioplasty. Operator technique reflected by an rpm decrease of >5,000 from baseline is associated with CK-MB elevation and restenosis.