Abstract Disc herniation as a result of degenerative or traumatic injury is believed to be the primary instigator of low back pain. At present there is a lack of viable treatment options to repair damaged annulus fibrosus (AF) tissue. Developing alternative strategies to fill and repair ruptured AF tissue is a key challenge. In this work we developed a porous alginate scaffold with shape-memory properties which can be delivered using minimally invasive approaches and recover its original geometry once hydrated. Covalently cross-linked alginate hydrogels were created using carbodiimide chemistry, followed by a freeze-drying step to impart porosity and create porous scaffolds. Results showed that porous alginate scaffolds exhibited shape-memory recovery and mechanical behaviour that could be modulated depending on the cross-linker concentrations. The scaffold can be repeatedly compressed and expanded, which provides the potential to deliver the biomaterial directly to the damaged area of the AF tissue. In vitro experiments demonstrated that scaffolds were cytocompatible and supported cell seeding, penetration and proliferation under intervertebral-disc-like microenvironmental conditions (low glucose media and low oxygen concentration). Extracellular matrix (ECM) was secreted by AF cells with TGF-β3 stimulation and after 21days had filled the porous scaffold network. This biological matrix was rich in sulfated glycosaminoglycan and collagen type I, which are the main compounds of native AF tissue. Successful ECM deposition was also confirmed by the increase in the peak stress of the scaffold. However, the immaturity of the matrix network after only 21days of in vitro culture was not sufficient to attain native AF tissue mechanical properties. The ability to deliver porous scaffolds using minimal invasive approaches that can potentially promote the regeneration of AF defects provides an exciting new avenue for disc repair.