A discography procedure can provide detailed information about the problem in your spine that is causing your back pain. The procedure is done on an outpatient basis in the doctor’s office. The procedure only takes about 30 to 45 minutes, followed by an observation period of about 30 minutes. You will go home on the same day. In most cases, the results are available within a few days of your procedure, and you will be able to get the care you need to eliminate your pain.
A discography is used for pinpointing the location in your back where a disc is damaged. The injections are performed one at a time, and you are asked about your perception of pain. The area where you report the most pain is likely to be the area of the biggest concern. The procedure can also be used for assessing anatomical disorders of the disc, such as a bulge or a tear.
Performing the Discography
A discography procedure involves the placement of a needle into one or more of the discs in your spine. In order to perform the procedure, your doctor will likely begin by giving you a sedative to help you relax. The procedure is usually performed in a room where X-ray equipment is available. This allows for the use of X-rays during the procedure so that our doctors can see the exact placement of the needle and the spot that triggers your pain.
You will lay on one side, with your body propped up with pillows for your comfort. In most cases, the lowest two or three lumbar vertebrae are studied, but this can vary based upon your symptoms. The area of your back that is to be tested will be cleaned with an antiseptic solution. You may receive an initial shot of an anesthetic that will cause numbness and prevent pain as the bigger needle used in the discography is inserted through the tissue of your back. You might also receive an intravenous delivery of antibiotics.
Once you are feeling numb, the doctor will begin inserting the needle into one of the suspected discs. Some fluid will be injected into the disc. The fluid may contain a dye for fluoroscopy. This allows for live X-ray placement of the needle. A contrast is also injected into the disc. If the disc is not damaged, the contrast will stay where it was injected by our doctors. In a damaged disc, the contrast spreads throughout the area. Once all of the discs have been checked, the needles will be removed and the injection sites will be covered with bandages.
Who is a Candidate for Discography?
Discography is used as a diagnostic procedure to find the cause and location of your back pain. You may be a candidate for this procedure if other, non-invasive diagnostic methods have not identified the source of your back pain. This method of back pain evaluation is often used before a lower back surgery, such as a lumbar fusion. Your doctor may recommend that you have a discography if X-rays, CT scans, or ultrasound have not discovered the source of your back pain.
Discography may also be used if your lower back pain is getting worse and is radiating into your buttocks, legs, and feet. It may also be used when back pain symptoms are interfering with your ability to walk and do everyday tasks that are necessary, such as walking through the grocery store or navigating the stairs in your home.
What to Expect After a Discography Procedure
The local anesthetic used in the discography procedure will wear off within a few hours. You will need to take it easy for a day or two after the discography procedure, mostly resting at home. It will be important to avoid any strenuous activities such as heavy lifting or vigorous exercise for about one to two weeks after discography. This allows your body to naturally absorb the fluid that was injected into the discs. If the procedure identified a problem, you will be informed of the results and will work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan, such as back surgery.