Discography, also called discogram, is a diagnostic procedure used to determine if back pain is caused by one or more discs.
The procedure involves pressurizing discs with an injection of sterile liquid to induce pain in the affected discs. Discography helps your pain specialist plan a course of treatment.
Once all needles are placed, the discs are pressurized one at a time with the injections of contrast dye. With each injection, patients feel either pressure or pain. If pain is felt, it is important for patients to compare it to the pain they had been experiencing. If the pain is the same this may indicate a diseased disc.
This test can give the physician more structural information about a disc than an MRI and was developed in the late 1940’s for the diagnosis of disc herniation.
By injecting a contrast dye into the disc, the physician can see any abnormalities or tears in the disc itself. If there is trauma to the disc there can be a tear in the outer portion (annulus) which can cause chronic pain. If the tear is extensive, the contents of the disc can leak out and can be very irritating to the surrounding tissue, contributing to that pain. When dye is injected into a damaged disc the dye will follow the area of injury, and can be seen on x-ray.
A discogram is the only way to prove if a disc is the exact cause of your pain.
A discogram is also useful prior to surgery to make certain the discs above and below an intended fusion level are normal. A Discogram is usually done if you are considering surgical intervention to relieve your pain. This test helps the surgeon determine if a fusion is needed, and at what level it is needed.
The procedure is performed under sterile technique using a fluoroscopy (x-ray) machine to guide the needles into the proper place. Discography usually takes less than an hour to perform.