Purpose: To conduct a meta-analysis to describe clinical course of pain and disability in adult patients post-lumbar discectomy (PROSPERO: CRD42015020806). Methods: Sensitive topic-based search strategy designed for individual databases was conducted. Patients (> 16 years) following first-time lumbar discectomy for sciatica/radiculopathy with no complications, investigated in inception (point of surgery) prospective cohort studies, were included. Studies including revision surgery or not published in English were excluded. Two reviewers independently searched information sources, assessed eligibility at title/abstract and full-text stages, extracted data, assessed risk of bias (modified QUIPs) and assessed GRADE. Authors were contacted to request raw data where data/variance data were missing. Meta-analyses evaluated outcomes at all available time points using the variance-weighted mean in random-effect meta-analyses. Means and 95% CIs were plotted over time for measurements reported on outcomes of leg pain, back pain and disability. Results: A total of 87 studies (n = 31,034) at risk of bias (49 moderate, 38 high) were included. Clinically relevant improvements immediately following surgery (> MCID) for leg pain (0–10, mean before surgery 7.04, 50 studies, n = 14,910 participants) and disability were identified (0–100, mean before surgery 53.33, 48 studies, n = 15,037). Back pain also improved (0–10, mean before surgery 4.72, 53 studies, n = 14,877). Improvement in all outcomes was maintained (to 7 years). Meta-regression analyses to assess the relationship between outcome data and a priori potential covariates found preoperative back pain and disability predictive for outcome. Conclusion: Moderate-level evidence supports clinically relevant immediate improvement in leg pain and disability following lumbar discectomy with accompanying improvements in back pain. Graphic abstract: These slides can be retrieved under Electronic Supplementary Material. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].