We undertook a randomised controlled trial to compare the piriformis-sparing approach with the standard posterior approach used for total hip replacement (THR). We recruited 100 patients awaiting THR and randomly allocated them to either the piriformis-sparing approach or the standard posterior approach. Pre- and post-operative care programmes and rehabilitation regimes were identical for both groups. Observers were blinded to the allocation throughout; patients were blinded until the two-week assessment. Follow-up was at six weeks, three months, one year and two years. In all 11 patients died or were lost to follow-up. There was no significant difference between groups for any of the functional outcomes. However, for patients in the piriformis-sparing group there was a trend towards a better six-minute walk test at two weeks and greater patient satisfaction at six weeks. The acetabular components were less anteverted (p = 0.005) and had a lower mean inclination angle (p = 0.02) in the piriformis-sparing group. However, in both groups the mean component positions were within Lewinnek's safe zone. Surgeons perceived the piriformis-sparing approach to be significantly more difficult than the standard approach (p = 0.03), particularly in obese patients. In conclusion, performing THR through a shorter incision involving sparing piriformis is more difficult and only provides short-term benefits compared with the standard posterior approach.