There are a variety of diagnostic exams your doctor may recommend to determine the cause of your back and/or neck pain, as well as the type of treatment that may be appropriate for you.
What Is A Discogram?
A discogram is an enhanced X-ray examination of the intervertebral discs of the spine. During the exam, radiographic contrast dye is injected into the center of the injured disc(s) to make the disc clearly visible via X-ray or fluoroscope.
Why Do I Need A Discogram?
A discogram may be used to detect structural damage in the disc, and can help your doctor determine whether a spinal disc is the cause of localized or radiating back or neck pain. A discogram will show if a disc has begun to rupture, or herniate, or has developed tears in its outer shell.
How Is A Discogram Done?
During the exam, using a fluoroscope for guidance, your doctor will insert a spinal needle into the disc and inject radiopaque dye into the nucleus (center) of the disc. In a healthy disc, the dye will remain contained within the central nucleus. After the dye is inserted into the disc, your doctor will take a series of X-rays. If the X-rays show the dye leaking out of the nucleus into the surrounding tissue, the disc is considered abnormal. If the symptoms you've been experiencing are replicated as a result of the test, it's a good indication the disc is the cause. A CAT/CT scan also may be done to examine a cross-section of the disc.
A discogram may be done either at a hospital or outpatient facility. There will be an anesthesiologist or a nurse present during the procedure to monitor you and administer intravenous sedation to keep you relaxed. Your heart, blood pressure and blood oxygen will be monitored closely.
For at least 24 hours after your exam, quiet non-strenuous activities are recommended to allow your puncture site to heal. You should also drink plenty of fluids (e.g. water, juice) to help clear the dye from your body.
Are There Any Potential Risks Or Complications?
Risks associated with the test include infection, bleeding, nerve root irritation or an allergic reaction to the dye.
Before undergoing your exam, please advise your doctor of any medical conditions or allergies you may have, or medications that you're taking. If you're taking a blood thinner, you should not have the exam. In addition, please ask your doctor or a member of his staff about any specific pre- or post-exam instructions they may have.