Abstract Understanding the relationship between repetitive lifting and the breakdown of disc tissue over several years of exposure is difficult to study in vivo and in vitro. The aim of this investigation was to develop a three-dimensional poroelastic finite element model of a lumbar motion segment that reflects the biological properties and behaviors of in vivo disc tissues including swelling pressure due to the proteoglycans and strain-dependent permeability and porosity. It was hypothesized that when modeling the annulus, prescribing tissue specific material properties will not be adequate for studying the in vivo loading and unloading behavior of the disc. Rather, regional variations of these properties, which are known to exist within the annulus, must also be included. Finite element predictions were compared to in vivo measurements published by Tyrrell et al. (1985) of percent change in total stature for two loading protocols, short-term creep loading and standing recovery and short-term cyclic loading with standing recovery. The model in which the regional variations of material properties in the annulus had been included provided an overall better prediction of the in vivo behavior as compared to the model in which the annulus properties were assumed to be homogenous. This model will now be used to study the relationship between repetitive lifting and disc degeneration.