Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to compare the appearance of the spine in 20 adolescents with proven symptomatic intervertebral disc herniations with that in 20 asymptomatic patients who acted as controls. Abnormality in the signal from the nucleus pulposus of one or more discs was present in all patients, while only four of the 20 controls had any abnormal signals. In all the patients the symptomatic disc produced an abnormal signal and in most a herniated fragment of the nucleus pulposus was identified. Fifteen of the 20 patients had multiple-disc abnormality: six had three abnormal discs and nine had two. This suggests there was an underlying diathesis in patients who later developed disc herniation.