Disc herniation into the intervertebral foramen (IVF) or osteophytic outgrowths from the margins of the apophyseal joints that project into the IVF may compress the neural structures, but in this cadaveric study of 160 lumbar foramens (age range, 35-91 years), the authors have found that they were much more commonly associated with compression and distortion of the large venous plexus within the IVF. In the absence of direct nerve compression (seen in only eight specimens), the most severe neural changes were associated with compression, congestion, and resultant dilatation of foraminal veins. Pathologic changes within and around the nerve root complex included peri- and intraneural fibrosis, edema of nerve roots, and focal demyelination. Inflammatory cells were notably absent. Vascular changes within the thickened fibrous sheath about damaged nerves, namely, basement membrane thickening, suggestive of endothelial cell injury also were observed. The association between vascular compression, tissue fibrosis, and endothelial injury distant from the compression may be causal--probably due to ischemia as a result of reduced venous outflow. Such observations have led the authors to propose that venous obstruction may be an important pathogenic mechanism in the development of perineural and intraneural fibrosis.