What is Discography?
Discography uses imaging guidance to direct an injection of contrast material into the center of one or more spinal discs to help identify the source of back pain. It also is used to help guide the treatment of abnormal intervertebral discs – sponge-like cushions located between the vertebrae of the spine.
What is a discogram?
A discogram, or discography, is an interventional diagnostic imaging test that helps determine whether a specific intervertebral disc may be the source of back pain.
Intervertebral discs are sponge-like cushions between the vertebrae, or bones, of the spine. Discs act as a sort of shock absorber for the spine and help provide flexibility.
Each disc has a strong outer layer called an annulus and a center part, called a nucleus, made of a soft, rubber-like material. When discs bulge or rupture, they may press on the nerves of the spinal column and cause pain or weakness.
In a discogram, a contrast liquid is injected into the center of one or more spinal discs using x-ray guidance. This injection may temporarily reproduce the patient’s back pain symptoms. As part of the procedure, an x-ray or CT scan also may be performed to obtain pictures of the injected disc.
What are some common uses of the procedure?
A discogram is typically performed to help diagnose the cause of back pain and to guide the treatment of abnormal discs. The procedure also may be performed prior to surgery to help identify discs that need to be treated or removed.
How does a discography work?
X-rays are a form of radiation like light or radio waves. X-rays pass through most objects, including the body. The technologist carefully aims the x-ray beam at the area of interest. The machine produces a small burst of radiation that passes through your body. The radiation records an image on photographic film or a special detector.
Different parts of the body absorb the x-rays in varying degrees. Dense bone absorbs much of the radiation while soft tissue (muscle, fat, and organs) allow more of the x-rays to pass through them. As a result, bones appear white on the x-ray, soft tissue shows up in shades of gray, and air appears black.
Most x-ray images are electronically stored digital files. Your doctor can easily access these stored images to diagnose and manage your condition.
Fluoroscopy uses a continuous or pulsed x-ray beam to create images and project them onto a video monitor. Your exam may use a contrast material to clearly define the area of interest. Fluoroscopy allows your doctor to view joints or internal organs in motion. The exam also captures still images or movies and stores them electronically on a computer.
What will I experience during and after the procedure?
You will feel a slight pinch when the nurse inserts the needle into your vein for the IV line and when they inject the local anesthetic. Most of the sensation is at the skin incision site. The doctor will numb this area using local anesthetic. You may feel pressure when the doctor inserts the catheter into the vein or artery. However, you will not feel serious discomfort.
You may feel pain or discomfort during needle insertion as the needle is guided towards the disc of interest.
You will be asked and reminded to remain very still during the procedure.
As the contrast material passes through your body, you may feel warm. This will quickly pass.
You may have some pain at the injection site for several hours after you go home. You may apply an ice pack to the area on and off for 20 minutes at a time. You may also take your usual pain medications as prescribed by your doctor. If the pain is severe and is associated with fever, then you should immediately see a physician.