A randomized clinical trial was conducted to compare the results of automated percutaneous discectomy with those of chemonucleolysis in 141 patients with sciatica caused by a disk herniation; 69 underwent automated percutaneous discectomy and 72 were subjected to chemonucleolysis. The principle outcome was the overall assessment of the patient 6 months after treatment. Treatment was considered to be successful by 61% of the patients in the chemonucleolysis group compared with 44% in the automated percutaneous discectomy group. At 1-year follow-up, overall success rates were 66% in the chemonucleolysis group and 37% in the automated percutaneous group. Within 6 months of treatment, 7% of the patients in the chemonucleolysis group and 33% in the discectomy group underwent subsequent open surgery. The complication rates of both treatment groups were low, with the exception of a high rate of low-back pain in the chemonucleolysis group (42%). The results of this trial confirm previous controlled studies on chemonucleolysis and suggest that controlled studies should be carried out before automated percutaneous discectomy can be considered a useful intervention.