The anatomy and physiology of the nerve root complex in the lumbar spine are reviewed, with special reference to the effects of mechanical deformation of nerve roots in association with intervertebral disc herniation and spinal stenosis. Biomechanical aspects of nerve root deformation induced by compression are discussed. The functional changes induced by compression can be caused by mechanical nerve fiber deformation but also may be a consequence of changes in nerve root microcirculation, leading to ischemia and formation of intraneural edema. Nerve root compression can, by different neurophysiologic mechanisms, induce motor weakness and altered sensibility or pain. Intraneural edema and demyelination seem to be critical factors for the production of pain in association with nerve root compression.