Sixty-five patients were examined with magnetic resonance imaging (MR) to determine what combination of operator-selectable controls would result in a thorough examination of the intervertebral disks. There were 20 normal subjects, 8 with degenerative lumbar disk disease, 27 with both degeneration and herniation, 5 with stenosis of the spinal canal, and 5 with disk space infection. T2 was significantly longer in the normal nucleus pulposus than in the degenerated disk. Based on plots of in vivo signal intensity vs. repetition time (TR) for various echo times (TE), a sagittal 30-msec. TE and a 0.25-sec. TR were used for anatomical delineation and rapid localization, while sagittal and/or axial 120-msec. TE/3-sec. TR images were used to evaluate the cerebrospinal fluid and disk. Comparison with radiographs, high-resolution CT scans, and myelograms showed that MR was the most sensitive for identification of degeneration and disk space infection, separating the normal nucleus pulposus from the annulus and degenerated disk. Herniation, stenosis of the canal, and scarring can be identified as accurately with MR as with CT or myelography.