We attempted to correlate the findings of MRI and discography in patients with low back pain, examining 108 lumbar intervertebral discs in 33 consecutive patients. MRI results were assessed from the intensity and shape of the signal obtained from the central part of the disc. Discography was classified according to the pattern of contrast material, the pressure accepted and the pain reproduced. All discs which were abnormal on MRI had altered patterns on discography, but 18 of the 60 discs with normal MRI had abnormal discograms. Of 39 asymptomatic discs, 33 had normal MRI signals and 24 had normal discograms. None of the 15 discs showing severe degeneration on MRI sustained high levels of intradiscal pressure, but only six of the 60 discs giving normal MRI had low pressure. With current techniques, discography is more accurate than MRI for the detection of annular pathology: a normal MRI does not exclude significant changes in the peripheral structure of the intervertebral disc which can produce low back pain.