This is an imaging test that uses a special contrast material to view the spinal cord. The contrast material used in the x-ray can help your doctor clearly outline the space containing the spinal cord and nerves.
Reasons for Procedure
This is used to detect problems in and around the spinal cord such as:
- Spinal tumors or cysts
- Herniated discs
- Stenosis —narrowing of the spinal canal
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Tearing away or injury of spinal nerve roots
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
- Short-term numbness of the legs or lower back pain
- Allergic reaction to the contrast
- Inflamed or infected spinal cord
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
Your doctor may do the following:
- Physical exam and medical history
- Ask if you are pregnant—this test is not usually done on women who are pregnant
- Ask about your medical history
- Determine if you have any allergies
Leading up to your procedure:
- The night before, do not eat solid foods after midnight. You should continue to drink liquids.
If your doctor prescribes a sedative:
- Arrange to have someone drive you home. Also, arrange for someone to help you at home.
- Take the sedative before the exam as directed by your doctor.
- You may have to stop certain medications up to a week before the procedure.
There is usually no anesthesia with this procedure. Your doctor may give you a mild sedative. You will have local anesthetic to reduce the pain of the needle.
Description of the Procedure
You will lie on your side or face down or you may sit on the edge of a table leaning forward. You may be given a local anesthetic injection in your back.
Your doctor will insert a needle into the space between your vertebrae. A small amount of fluid will be removed from the spinal canal. Next, the contrast will be injected through the needle. Your doctor will use an imaging procedure called fluoroscopy. This combines an x-ray unit with a camera and a screen.
To take the images, you will be positioned stomach-down on the table. A brace will be against your shoulders. The table will be tipped forward. Next, the doctor will take images of your back. You will hold your breath while the images are taken. You may be asked to turn slightly to one side and then the other.
Often, your doctor will perform a CT scan after myelography. This is to see the spread of the contrast dye.
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Immediately After Procedure
You may be asked to stay in the exam room while the doctor looks at the images. You will be able to go home after about an hour.
How Long Will It Take?
About 30-60 minutes (CT scan will take 30-60 minutes longer)
How Much Will It Hurt?
You will feel some pressure or pain when the needle is inserted.
- If you took a sedative, do not drive, operate machinery, or make important decisions until the sedative wears off.
- Avoid strenuous exercise (including bending over) for 1-2 days.
- You may be more comfortable lying on your back for 24 hours after the procedure.
Call Your Doctor
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
- Signs of infection, including fever and chills
- Leakage of fluid from the puncture site
- Headache lasting more than 24 hours
- Excessive nausea or vomiting
- Neck stiffness
- Numbness in your legs
- Trouble urinating or moving your bowels
- Symptoms of allergic reaction such as hives, itching, nausea, swollen or itchy eyes, tight throat, or difficulty breathing
- New or unexpected symptoms
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
Know Your Back—North American Spine Society
Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
When it Hurts to Move—Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Lumbar disk herniation. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116077/Lumbar-disk-herniation. Updated September 6, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Lumbar spinal stenosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114133/Lumbar-spinal-stenosis. Updated July 31, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Myelogram. Johns Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/orthopaedic/myelogram_92,P07670. Accessed December 18, 2017.
Myelography. Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=myelography&bhcp=1. Updated January 23, 2017. Accessed December 18, 2017
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/20/2014