The Vault

Spine Center of Texas will be discussing everything you need to know about Discography in a two-part blog post:

What is discography?

Discography, discogram, or disc stimulation is a diagnostic procedure that is used to identify painful spinal discs. Since it is diagnostic in nature, discography can only help the doctor pinpoint which spine disc is responsible for the patient’s pain symptoms. The diagnostic test itself can’t improve the pain. In fact, patients can experience more pain for one or more days after undergoing the said procedure.

Why is discography done?

Spine specialists prefer discography over MRI or CT scan since the latter can’t always identify the where the pain is located. A disc may appear abnormal, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the source of pain. What’s more, some patients may show more than one abnormal disc. This is a disservice for the attending physician, since he must specifically determine where the pain is coming from for surgery and treatment purposes. Those who undergo discography have failed to find relief with conservative treatments, such as medications, physical therapy, and injection therapy.

How is discography performed? 

Once the problem disc has been identified, treatment options may include minimally invasive spine treatments, such as  Percutaneous Disc Decompression or IDET (Intradiscal Electro-Thermal Coagulation.) Surgery may be prescribed depending on various factors. Discography is a brief outpatient procedure that can last from 30 to 45 minutes. X-Ray is utilized with the use of local anesthesia. Just like epidural steroids or facet joint injections, the patient is instructed to lie on his/her stomach. The physical then applies local anesthetic and places a small needle into the center of each disc. The needle injects a radio opaque dye that enables the X-Ray to see if any of the dye leaks out of the disc. The pressure within each disc is also measured and compared during and after dye injection. The physician will then observe the patient’s response if he is able to reproduce the pain symptoms through the injection. A CT scan may occasionally be performed to check at the pattern of the dye spread through the disc. All information retrieved from the procedure can be used to determine appropriate treatment options.

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