What is a Discogram Procedure?
A discography diagnostic procedure is often called a discogram. This process is intended to pinpoint specific spinal discs that are causing back pain. These discs are the spongy cushions that rest between vertebrae, acting as ‘shock absorbers’ of sorts and help keep the spine flexible. When injured, discs may bulge or rupture and put pressure on nerves and cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the back, legs, or neck. The discography test helps physicians identify problematic discs and decide upon an effective approach for the patient’s pain management and other treatments.
About the Discography Procedure
Patients may be asked to restrict or eliminate food and drink consumption prior to a discography procedure, and those on blood thinners may be asked to temporarily discontinue such medications two weeks prior to the test. A discogram typically takes about one hour or less, and these are the steps patients can expect.
- Once gowned, the patient will be asked to place themselves on a fluoroscope table, which takes x-rays during the procedure, allowing the doctor to ensure proper instrument placement at all times. The most common positions for a discography are lying on one’s stomach or their side.
- Patients will then be administered a mild sedative via IV in order to help them relax throughout the discogram. However, patients will remain conscious throughout, as it is essential for them to be able to communicate when they feel pain to the administering physician.
- The entire area of the spine will be cleansed and a local anesthetic is applied to numb the region from skin through the tissues of the spine to reduce pain during the discogram.
- A physician will insert a guide needle through each anesthetized track along the target discs near their outer edges. After each insertion, the doctor will check the x-ray from the fluoroscope to ensure the guide is inserted properly into the target disc.
- Once the guide is properly situated, a smaller needle will be inserted through the guide and into the central region of each disc, one at a time until all target discs are prepped in this fashion.
- The physician will pressurize each target disc one at a time with small injections of contrast dye. Patients might feel pain or pressure with each injection. If the feeling conveyed by the patient is pain, they will be asked whether the pain equals the typical pain they have been experiencing. If the answer is ‘yes’ then this could indicate a diseased disc that may require specialized treatment or removal.
- Images are taken of each insertion and the patient’s responses are recorded for evaluation after the discography procedure concludes. Some patients may be scheduled for a CT scan immediately after the discogram to get an even closer look at internal images of spinal discs.
Risks Associated with a Discogram
Minimal risks are associated with a discography examination with the most common being temporary pain, bleeding, or subsequent infection at the injection sites. Because many patients are sore for several days after a discogram, physicians typically advise taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen and ice pack applications post examination until the discomfort subsides.