Cabrera left Saturday's 10-4 loss to Minnesota because of tightness in his lower back. The Tigers said Sunday that an MRI showed damage between the L3 and L4, and the L4 and L5 disks.
Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said that Cabrera, 34, is unlikely to have surgery and probably will be treated with anti-inflammatory injections to quell pain.
"It's probably been slowly developing for years," Ausmus said.
A four-time AL batting champion, Cabrera is hitting .249 with 16 homers and 60 RBIs this season. It is not clear whether his season is over.
"We're certainly not ruling out the possibility that he can play again," Ausmus said. "I would imagine if he did, it would be in a DH role."
Ausmus, who was told Friday he will not return next year, said Cabrera likely will not remain a full-time first baseman and will shift to designated hitter.
"I not only think it will benefit him, I think it will probably happen," Ausmus said.