Pathophysiological changes in the spinal cord white and grey matter resulting from injury can be observed with MRI techniques. These techniques provide sensitive markers of macrostructural and microstructural tissue integrity, which correlate with histological findings. Spinal cord MRI findings in traumatic spinal cord injury (tSCI) and nontraumatic spinal cord injury - the most common form of which is degenerative cervical myelopathy (DCM) - have provided important insights into the pathophysiological processes taking place not just at the focal injury site but also rostral and caudal to the spinal injury. Although tSCI and DCM have different aetiologies, they show similar degrees of spinal cord pathology remote from the injury site, suggesting the involvement of similar secondary degenerative mechanisms. Advanced quantitative MRI protocols that are sensitive to spinal cord pathology have the potential to improve diagnosis and, more importantly, predict outcomes in patients with tSCI or nontraumatic spinal cord injury. This Review describes the insights into tSCI and DCM that have been revealed by neuroimaging and outlines current activities and future directions for the field.