We carried out a prospective study of 132 patients (159 knees) who underwent closed-wedge high tibial osteotomy for severe medial compartment osteoarthritis between 1988 and 1997. A total of 94 patients (118 knees) was available for review at a mean of 16.4 years (16 to 20). Seven patients (7.4%) (11 knees) required conversion to total knee replacement. Kaplan-Meier survival was 97.6% (95% confidence interval 95.0 to 100) at ten years and 90.4% (95% confidence interval 84.1 to 96.7) at 15 years. Excellent and good results as assessed by the Hospital for Special Surgery knee score were achieved in 87 knees (73.7%). A pre-operative body mass index > 27.5 kg/m(2) and range of movement < 100 degrees were risk factors predicting early failure. Although our long-term results were satisfactory, strict indications for osteotomy are required if long-term survival is required.