OBJECTIVE: To investigate the frequency of lumbosacral anomalies, the association with urogenital abnormalities, and the correlation with defaecation pattern by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). METHODS: A prospective analysis was performed of routine MRI in patients with anorectal malformations. Between 1990 and 1994, MRI was performed in 43 such patients: 31 boys and 12 girls. Twenty four had a high anorectal malformation, 16 had a low anorectal malformation, and three had Currarino's triad. MRI was performed before reconstruction in 26, and postoperatively in 17. Urogenital anomalies were found in 21. RESULTS: Abnormalities of the spinal cord and spine were found with MRI in 20 patients (46.5%); caudal regression syndrome in 10, tethered cord in two, a combination of both in three, and other spinal anomalies in five. These anomalies were found in 30% of the patients with low anorectal malformations, and in 50% with high anorectal malformations. In patients with urogenital malformations, MRI more often showed spinal anomalies (13/21, 62%) than in patients without (7/22, 32%). In high anorectal malformations, defaecation was more often a problem in patients with spinal anomalies (12/15, 80%) than in patients without (2/8, 25%). CONCLUSIONS: Spinal anomalies in the lumbosacral region were found with MRI in 46.5% of patients with anorectal malformations. Since presence of these anomalies seems to be related to clinical outcome, MRI should be performed routinely in all such patients.