Osteoid osteoma, a benign bone tumor, has traditionally been treated with operative excision. A recently developed method for percutaneous ablation of the tumor has been proposed as an alternative to operative treatment. The relative outcomes of the two approaches to treatment have not previously been compared, to our knowledge.The rates of recurrence and of persistent symptoms were compared in a consecutive series of eighty-seven patients who were managed with operative excision and thirty-eight patients who were managed with percutaneous ablation with radiofrequency. Patients who had a spinal lesion were excluded. The minimum duration of follow-up was two years.There was a recurrence, defined as the need for subsequent intervention, after operative treatment in six (9 per cent) of sixty-eight patients who had been managed for a primary lesion and in two of nineteen who had been managed for a recurrent lesion. The average length of the hospital stay was 4.7 days for the patients who had a primary lesion and 5.1 days for those who had a recurrent lesion. There was a recurrence after percutaneous treatment in four (12 per cent) of thirty-three patients who had been managed for a primary lesion and in none of five who had been managed for a recurrent lesion. The average length of the hospital stay was 0.2 day for these thirty-eight patients. With the numbers available, we could detect no significant difference between the two treatments with regard to the rate of recurrence.The rate of persistent symptoms (that is, symptoms that did not necessitate additional treatment) was greater than the rate of recurrence. According to responses to a questionnaire, eight (30 per cent) of twenty-seven patients had persistent symptoms after operative treatment and six (23 per cent) of twenty-six patients had persistent symptoms after percutaneous treatment with radiofrequency. Two patients had complications after operative excision, necessitating a total of five additional operations. There were no complications associated with the percutaneous method.The results of the present study suggest that percutaneous ablation with radiofrequency is essentially equivalent to operative excision for the treatment of an osteoid osteoma in an extremity. The percutaneous method is preferred for the treatment of extraspinal osteoid osteoma because it generally does not necessitate hospitalization, it has not been associated with complications, and it is associated with a rapid convalescence.