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What is discography?

Discography (or discogram) helps identify the source of back pain. After an injection of a contrast material into the center of one or more spinal discs, discography uses imaging to diagnose and help guide the treatment of abnormal intervertebral discs, the sponge-like cushions located between the vertebrae of the spine.

How to prepare for a discography?

Your doctor will tell you how to prepare for your discography, but before your procedure, you can generally expect:

  • Blood testing to determine how well your kidneys are functioning and whether your blood clots normally.
  • You will likely be instructed not to eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your procedure.
  • If your radiologist has not already received relevant imaging exams (like MRIs) performed prior to your appointment, ensure your doctor has these images.
  • Always inform your doctor about recent illnesses or other medical conditions.
  • Women should always inform the physician if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.

Always be sure to report what medications or herbal supplements you are taking, as well as whether you have any known allergies to anesthetics or contrast iodine materials. Your doctor will instruct you as to which of your medications you may take before your procedure.

How is the procedure performed?

A discography is typically performed on an outpatient basis, and patients remain awake during the procedure, as you may be asked to describe your pain in terms of location, distribution and severity. In general, you may expect the following procedures for your discography:

  • Positioned on your side, an IV line will be inserted into a vein in your hand or arm.
  • After numbing the area with a local anesthetic, your physician will insert a needle through your skin into the center of the disc being examined.
  • You will be asked to remain very still during this procedure.
  • Once the needle is inside the disc, a contrast material is injected, and the needle is removed.
  • The process may be repeated for additional discs.
  • An X-ray or CT scan may be performed after the injections are complete to further analyze the injected disc(s).

A discography procedure is usually completed within one hour, depending on how many disc levels your doctor wants to evaluate. Once the procedure is completed and the IV line taken out, most patients spend 30-60 minutes in an observation area. Please plan for a friend or family member to drive you home.

Is discography painful?

While most patients experience some discomfort during a discography, experiencing high levels of pain is unusual.

  • It is possible that you may feel some discomfort when the needle is inserted into your disc, and most patients feel a slight pin prick when the needle is inserted for the IV line where the local anesthetic is injected.
  • Most of the sensation is at the skin incision site, although that area is numbed using local anesthetic.
  • There may be some pressure when the catheter is inserted into the artery or vein.
  • Some people experience a warm feeling when the contrast material passes through the body.
Discography

If there is pain at the injection site after you go home, you may apply an ice pack to the area on and off for 20 minutes at a time and may take a pain medication. If the pain lasts longer than a few hours, or pain is severe and causing any kind of fever, you should immediately see a physician.

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