Fifty-two cadaveric lumbar motion segments were subjected to fatigue loading in compression and bending to determine if the intervertebral discs could prolapse in a gradual manner. Prior to testing, the nucleus pulposus of each disc was stained with a small quantity of blue dye and radiopaque solution. This enabled the progress of any gradual prolapse to be monitored by direct observation and by discogram. Six discs developed a gradual prolapse during the testing period. The injury starts with the lamellae of the annulus being distorted to form radial fissures and then nuclear pulp is extruded from the disc and leaks into the spinal canal. Discs most commonly affected were from the lower lumbar spine of young cadavers. Tests on ten older discs with pre-existing ruptures showed that such discs are stable and do not leak nuclear pulp.