The effect of incision length on patient recovery following cholecystectomy has not been investigated previously. In this study, 30 patients with symptomatic gallstones were randomized to cholecystectomy through a 6 cm or 15 cm transverse subcostal incision. Postoperative hospital stay was significantly shorter in the 6 cm incision group (median 3 days vs 5 days; P = 0.0069 Mann-Whitney U-test). In the 6 cm group analgesic requirements were reduced (median 2.5 vs 4.5 intramuscular opiate injections per patient) and recovery of depressed postoperative pulmonary function (FVC and FEV1) was faster (3% difference between groups on day 1 and 7% on day 3), although these differences did not achieve statistical significance. These results suggest that the length of incision may influence patient recovery following elective cholecystectomy. This has important implications as surgery carried out through shorter and less traumatic incisions may offer a cost-effective alternative to laparoscopic cholecystectomy. Moreover, some surgeons may find mini-laparotomy cholecystectomy easier to adopt than laparoscopic techniques.