Chronic adhesive arachnoiditis is cited as an important cause of recurrent pain and disability after extradural lumbar disc surgery. Myelography using oil-based or ionic water-soluble contrast media was a major contributing factor, and it was not possible to distinguish the prevalence of arachnoiditis probably due to surgery alone. Today it should be possible to make this distinction, which was the purpose of this study. Using high-resolution MRI in 129 patients symptomatic at least 1 year after surgery, a prevalence of arachnoiditis of 20% was found, which dropped to 3% when patients who had undergone oil-based myelography were excluded. Arachnoiditis was diffuse in 88% and focal in 12%. When oil-based media were involved it was focal in 13%, and when not, in one of three cases. It was concluded that arachnoiditis does occur after extradural lumbar disc surgery independently of the use of some myelographic contrast media, and that it may be diffuse or confined only to the operated level. Its prevalence was estimated at 4.6%, four cases focal and two cases diffuse. The causes and clinical significance can only be the subject of speculation.