To find out whether the usual total stripping of the long saphenous vein in operations for varicose veins could be replaced by a less traumatic removal of only the femoral part of the vein, a randomised prospective study was carried out in 163 consecutive patients, of whom 157 were evaluable. Group A (n = 80) had total stripping and group B (n = 77) had partial stripping (extraction of the long saphenous vein from the groin to immediately below the knee). The two groups, which were comparable, were assessed three months after operation when 75 in group A (94%) and 75 in group B (97%) had excellent or good relief of symptoms and comparable absence of residual varicosities. Lesions of the saphenous nerve were found in 31 in group A (39%) and 5 in group B (7%) (p less than 0.001). There were few other complications. We conclude that preservation of the distal long saphenous vein not only reduces nerve damage, but also retains enough vein for use should coronary artery bypass or peripheral vascular grafting be necessary in future.