At times it is difficult for a physician to determine what is causing a patient’s low back pain. One potential cause is a problem with one of your intervertebral discs, the gel-filled cushions that separate your spine’s bones (vertebrae).
Sometimes your physician may need to learn more about a spinal disc’s internal structure in order to find out what is causing your symptoms. To do so, your doctor may recommend a diagnostic procedure called discography.
The purpose of discography
Discography can be helpful in determining if one of your discs is the source of your pain. This study may be ordered if your pain has not improved with conservative treatment and you’re considering surgical treatment options.
It can also be important to know the health status of the discs above and below the disc being considered for surgery, where there may be added stress, load, and movement after surgery.
Overview of the discography procedure
Here’s what to expect during a discography procedure:
- Before the procedure, you’ll get an intravenous (IV) line placed in your arm, so you can receive fluids and medicine during the procedure.
- For lumbar discography, you will lie face down with a pillow underneath your abdomen.
- For cervical discography, you will lie face up with a pillow underneath your neck.
- The injection area is cleaned and numbed before the injection.
- Using fluoroscopic (X-ray) guidance throughout the procedure, your physician will determine the appropriate path for the needle.
- Your doctor will insert a thin needle to the center of each disc to be tested.
- Next, your doctor will inject a small amount of contrast dye to see the disc’s internal structure and to pressurize the disc to re-create stress experienced during normal activity.
- You will be asked to rate your pain during the procedure to help with diagnosis.
- Each disc is tested individually, and your doctor will record the results.
- Your physician will use the test results to plan treatment.
- After the procedure, you’ll spend 30 to 60 minutes in the recovery area.
Preparing for discography
- You must have a responsible adult arrive with you to our facility and drive you home. If you use a taxi or medical transportation, you still must have a responsible adult with you in order to help take care of you after your procedure.
- While the procedure usually takes less than an hour, you will need to allow for at least two to three hours at the surgery center.
- You need to arrange for a driver to be present and take you to and from the medical facility. If you do not have a driver with you, we may have to reschedule your procedure.
- The evening before your injection, shower or bathe with antibacterial soap, if possible.
- If you are taking prescription blood thinners such as Coumadin (warfarin), Ticlid (ticlopidine), or Plavix (clopidogrel bisulfate), among others, please inform your patient care coordinator. These medicines will need to be stopped before the procedure, but only after you receive permission from the doctor who is prescribing these medicines.
- Tell your doctor’s patient care coordinator if you are on high doses of aspirin (more than two per day).
- Please tell us if you have any known allergies, since we will be using medications and contrast dye during the procedure.
- If you develop a fever, night sweats, or an active infection before your procedure, your procedure will need to be rescheduled. Please contact our office at (651) 968–5201 immediately to let us know about the symptoms you’re experiencing.
After the injection
- Follow the specific instructions given to you by the nurses at the surgery center.
- Plan to rest for the remainder of the day. You may resume light activity that is comfortable for you, but do not overexert yourself the first day.
- For discomfort, apply ice packs to the area for 15 minutes several times a day.
- Do not soak in a tub for 24 hours after the procedure. You may take showers.
- Report any signs of infection or other unusual symptoms to our office, including:
- Redness and warmth at the injection site
- Increasing pain
- Swelling or drainage at the injection site
- Chills, night sweats, or fever that reaches above 100° F
Potential risks of discography
This study is considered invasive and does have potential risks. These include, but are not limited to:
- Increased pain
- Muscle spasms
- Nerve injury
- Allergic reactions to any of the medications or contrast dye used (be sure to inform us before the procedure if you have any known allergies)
If your procedure includes sedation
We use conscious sedation, which means that you will be relaxed and comfortable during the procedure but will not be unconscious.
- You should have no solid foods for six hours before your procedure.
- You may have clear liquids up to two hours before your procedure. Examples include:
- Clear fruit juices such as apple, cranberry, and grape juice (no pulp)
- Tea, black coffee with no cream
- Carbonated beverages
- Nothing by mouth, including throat lozenges, mints, and all hard candy, for two hours before your procedure.
- No gum for two hours before your procedure.
- You must have a responsible adult arrive with you to our facility and drive you home. If you use a taxi or volunteer ride service, you still must have a responsible adult with you in order to help take care of you after your procedure.
- Please take your regular medications the day of your procedure, especially any heart, diabetes, or blood pressure medications.
Summit Orthopedics offers comprehensive spine expertise
Summit’s spine care team is recognized by the National Committee for Quality Assurance for the comprehensive expertise of our patient-centered care. Our back specialists diagnose spine problems and design custom treatment plans built on a conservative, nonsurgical approach. Most patients find relief through treatments including guided injections, specialized physical therapy, biofeedback, exercise, activity modification, and medication. When conservative care does not relieve symptoms, our highly skilled surgeons offer proven, evidence-based surgical options. Together with you, we will determine the right course of action.
Summit has convenient locations across the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, serving Minnesota and western Wisconsin. We have state-of-the-art centers for comprehensive orthopedic care in Eagan, MN, Vadnais Heights, MN, and Woodbury, MN, as well as additional community clinics throughout the metro and southern Minnesota.
More resources for you
- Visit our Spine Exercise Library for options to help ease neck and back pain
- See Summit’s treatment options for neck, back, and spine care
- Check out additional information on Summit’s approach to spine care
Ask the Expert: Injections Video Series
Ask the Expert: Spine Video Series
Ask the Expert: Spine Video Series