Biopsy specimens of the lumbar multifidus were obtained from 18 patients with lumbar disc herniation at operation and after a postoperative follow-up period of 5 years. The structure and morphometry of the muscle fibers were analyzed and these data were compared with intraoperative biopsy results and the clinical outcome of the operation. The main findings were: 1) on the basis of occupational handicap score 10 patients belonged in the "positive" and 8 in the "negative" outcome group; 2) the intraoperatively recorded selective type 2 muscle fiber atrophy and the extent of pathologic inner structure changes both decreased in the "positive" outcome group, whereas they persisted in the "negative" group; 3) grouping as a definite sign of reinnervation was seen in only two versus four patients of the "positive" versus "negative" outcome group; 4) the relative amount of adipose tissue within the muscle decreased more markedly in the "positive" outcome group. The authors propose that both inactivity and axonal injury (mainly of neurapraxia type) contribute to the selective type 2 atrophy and inner structure changes in disc patients' multifidus muscle. These pathologic structural changes correlated well with the clinical outcome, and most importantly they are reversible and can be diminished by adequate therapy.