We studied 54 excised human lungs, 15 with no emphysema and 39 with varying degrees of emphysema, to examine the relationship of small airway disease and elastic recoil. We found a negative correlation between the total small airway pathology score and the mean internal bronchiolar diameter (r = -0.309, p = less than 0.03), as well as with other measurements of small airway size. The internal bronchiolar diameter correlated well with both the elastic recoil expressed as a percentage of predicted values at 70% of total lung capacity (r = 0.533, p less than 0.001) and elastic recoil expressed as an exponential constant k (r = -0.370, p less than 0.01). Fibrosis of the small airways was associated with a reduced internal bronchiolar diameter (r = 0.460, p less than 0.001), as well as the percentage of predicted elastic recoil at 70% of total lung capacity (r = -0.382, p less than 0.01) and elastic recoil expressed as an exponential constant k (r = 0.348, p less than 0.02). We have concluded that changes in elastic recoil seen in these lungs and fibrosis of small airways may be related by a common inflammatory process.