One hundred and one disc levels in 36 patients with low-back pain were studied with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (T2-weighted) sagittal images and conventional roentgenographic discography to detect early disc degeneration. Thirty-nine discs also were evaluated after discography with roentgenographic CT MRI findings were compared with discography results. MRI was 99% accurate in predicting normality or abnormality as determined by discography. Changes in disc signal on MRI accurately reflected the presence or absence of degenerative changes seen on discography in patients with low-back pain. Clinically, MRI is a useful technique for detecting early disc degeneration and for assessing the affected disc level and adjacent levels in patients with low-back pain and spondylolithesis.