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What is Discography?

Discography or a discogram is a procedure to evaluate back pain. It helps identify a painful spinal disc.

What are Spinal Discs?

The spinal column consists of vertebral bones stacked one on top of the other that surround and support the spinal cord. Spinal nerves pass through spaces between the vertebrae to communicate with the rest of the body. Spinal discs are soft discs present between the vertebral bones that act as shock absorbers and help keep the spine flexible. Damage or degeneration of a spinal disc can cause compression of the spinal nerves, leading to pain.

Indications for Discography

Discography is indicated if you have severe pain and disability that does not respond to conservative treatments. It may be performed if your doctor is considering a spinal fusion procedure to remove the painful spinal disc.

Discography Procedure

Discography is performed under local anesthesia and takes less than an hour. You will lie face down on an operating table. Your back is marked in the region of the painful spinal discs. A guide needle is inserted under fluoroscopic imaging (live X-ray) until it reaches a disc. A smaller disc needle is passed through the guide needle to reach the center of the disc. Sterile liquid, such as X-ray dye, is then injected into the disc. This increases the pressure within the disc and may reproduce your pain symptoms. If the disc is not the source of your pain, you may either have no symptoms or unfamiliar symptoms. A group of discs may be tested one at a time to identify the pain source. Scans are obtained once each disc is pressurized.

If a discogram is positive for a spinal disc, a spinal fusion procedure may be performed, where the painful disc is removed and the adjacent vertebrae fused to alleviate pain.

Post-procedure Care for Discography

You will experience some soreness at the needle site, which is easily treated by medication and application of an ice pack.

Risks and Complications Associated with Discography

Discography is an invasive procedure and may be associated with certain risks such as

  • Disc space infection
  • Nerve root injury
  • Spinal headache

These risks are however rare as the procedure is performed under strict guidelines for sterility.

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  • American Board of Medical Specialties
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