To explore the relationship between surgical approach and chronic posterior iliac crest donor site pain, 151 bone graft harvests with follow-up periods longer than 1 year were evaluated using a detailed questionnaire and follow-up clinical visits. There was no difference in the incidence of chronic donor site pain between harvests performed through the primary midline incision versus a separate lateral oblique incision (28 vs 31%). Twice as many donor sites harvested for reconstructive spinal procedures were reported as having chronic pain as compared with those harvested for spinal trauma, regardless of approach used (39 vs 18%). The association of chronic donor site pain with residual back pain was also greater in the spinal reconstructive group. Thus, it appears that incidence of chronic donor site pain is more dependent on diagnosis than on surgical approach.