Lumbar disc herniation (LDH) is uncommon in youth and few cases are treated surgically. Very few outcome studies exist for LDH surgery in this age group. Our aim was to explore differences in gender in pre-operative level of disability and outcome of surgery for LDH in patients aged ≤ 20 years using prospectively collected data. From the national Swedish SweSpine register we identified 180 patients with one-year and 108 with two-year follow-up data ≤ 20 years of age, who between the years 2000 and 2010 had a primary operation for LDH. Both male and female patients reported pronounced impairment before the operation in all patient reported outcome measures, with female patients experiencing significantly greater back pain, having greater analgesic requirements and reporting significantly inferior scores in EuroQol (EQ-5D-index), EQ-visual analogue scale, most aspects of Short Form-36 and Oswestry Disabilities Index, when compared with male patients. Surgery conferred a statistically significant improvement in all registered parameters, with few gender discrepancies. Quality of life at one year following surgery normalised in both males and females and only eight patients (4.5%) were dissatisfied with the outcome. Virtually all parameters were stable between the one- and two-year follow-up examination. LDH surgery leads to normal health and a favourable outcome in both male and female patients aged 20 years or younger, who failed to recover after non-operative management. Cite this article: Bone Joint J 2015;97-B:1675-82.