What is Discography?


Discography is a diagnostic procedure, not a treatment. X-ray dye is injected into the spinal discs and then the patient is sent for a CT scan of the spine to evaluate for tears or fissures in the discs. The results of the procedure can be helpful to locate the exact site of pain for both interventional and surgical procedures.


How is discography performed?


The procedure is done under fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance. The patient is lying on his stomach. The skin over the injection site is cleansed with an antiseptic solution. The patients are usually given a light sedative after which the needles are positioned.


How will I feel during the injection?


When a normal healthy disc is injected with  dye, there is a sensation of pressure but not pain. When an abnormal disc is injected, there is a feeling of pain. It is important to try to determine whether the pain is the similar “typical pain” or a different pain. When each disc is injected, you will be asked if it is painful, where you feel the pain, and whether it is the same area as your “usual pain”.


How many discs will be injected and how long does it take?


Based on your MRI findings, your doctor will determine which discs will be injected and evaluated. In addition, a normal disc is injected to serve as a reference point. The procedure takes about 45 minutes.


Will the injection hurt?


A small amount of anesthesia will be given to help alleviate discomfort. The procedure involves inserting a needle through the skin and deeper tissues, so there is some discomfort involved. However, your doctor will numb the skin and deeper tissues with local anesthetic using a very thin needle prior to inserting the needle into the disc. Despite this, the procedure is intended to reproduce your “usual pain”.


What are the risk and complications?


It is generally a safe procedure. The most common side effect is temporary discomfort. Sometimes the discogram needle brushes past a nerve root and the nerve root is irritated. This gets better quickly. The other risks are infection, bleeding, and worsening of symptoms. Patients are given antibiotics prior to the procedure and injected within the discs which virtually eliminates all risk for infection.


Will my pain be better after the injection?


No, Discography does not treat your condition. It is a diagnostic test that allows your doctor to plan your treatment.