Discography is a procedure that uses images to see whether discs in the lower back are responsible for chronic back pain. These “discs” are located between the vertebrae of the spine and provide flexibility – if this is damaged in any way it can cause severe pain.
Discography is where X-ray dye is injected under the discs of the spine. The dye is mixed with antibiotics and once inserted, doctors will be able to pinpoint the root of any chronic back issues.
1. Most patients are told to lie on their stomach
2. An IV line will be inserted into a vein
3. Blood pressure, EKG, and oxygen levels will all be tracked
4. A local anesthetic will be used to numb the area of the back and/or painkillers
5. The area where the dye will be injected will be cleaned with antiseptic to prevent any bacteria
6. The injection will be inserted into the region that is causing severe pain and distress.
7. You will be asked to rate the pain you are feeling out of 10 in terms of where the chronic pain comes from
8. If it is multiple discs causing distress then multiple discs will be injected as part of Discography
9. The procedure usually takes a maximum of 45 minutes. Even in extreme cases, it will be no longer than 1 hour.
Discography isn’t a treatment for pain; it is simply a tool to pinpoint the center of distress in the back. Once this is found, suitable treatment can be discussed with a doctor. This means that this method is very efficient because when undergoing surgery, the surgeons will know the most effective treatment.
A radiologist will go through the images, which will determine where the root of the problem is. From this, if the issue is with the discs in the back then follow-up appointments may have to be scheduled.
MRI scans cannot directly determine the pain; it can only show a rough estimate of an area that appears abnormal. Discography, on the other hand, can locate the pain to a single disc in your back.
There are some risks with Discography – as with most medical procedures. Common side effects include temporary injection pain (pressure to the area), headaches, infection and damages to nerves. The worst side effect is developing an infection in the disc-space – this can prove very difficult to remove.
However, studies have reported that 1/400 patients experience these severe side effects.