Discography is an imaging test. It involves injecting a contrast material into a disc in the spine and taking an x-ray. An x-ray is a test that uses radiation to take a picture of structures inside the body. The contrast material helps the disc appear more clearly on the x-ray.
Herniated Lumbar Disc
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This test is used to detect if a herniated disc or otherwise abnormal disc is a source of pain. Discs are small, circular cushions between the vertebrae (bones) in the spine. A herniated disc occurs when a disc in the spine bulges from its proper place. Herniated discs can press on the nerves and cause severe pain. In some cases, they can cause pain themselves, but often an abnormal disc is not painful.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:
Your doctor may do the following:
Before your test:
You will lie on your stomach or side on a table. A technician will help place you into position. You may be given antibiotics through an IV. You may receive an injection of local anesthetic into the skin on your back. This will be done to reduce pain from the needles.
Your doctor will use an imaging test called fluoroscopy. It combines x-ray technology with a TV screen to help guide needles into the discs. A contrast dye will be injected into the center of each disc. If the disc is normal, the liquid will remain in the center of the disc. If it is abnormal, the x-ray will detect any spreading or leaks.
During the exam, you will be asked to rate any pain that is associated with the injections. This can help your doctor find out if it is the abnormal disc that is causing pain. After this test, your doctor may do a CT scan to see the extent of spread of the contrast dye.
You will be monitored in a recovery room while the sedation wears off.
About 30-60 minutes (an additional 30-60 minutes if a CT scan is also done)
You may have pain from the contrast dye. Pain can last for several hours.
The results will be given to your doctor. Your doctor will talk to you about the results and treatment options.
It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
North American Spine Society
Ortho Info—American Academy
of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Canadian Orthopaedic Association
Canadian Orthopaedic Foundation
Carragee EJ, Don AS, et al. Does discography cause accelerated progression of degeneration changes in the lumbar disc?: A ten-year matched cohort study. Spine. 2009;34(21):2338-2345.
Discography (discogram). Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at:
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Updated September 22, 2014. Accessed December 17, 2014.
Modic MT. Diskography: Science and the ad hoc hypothesis. AJMR Am J Neuroradiol. 2000;21(2):241-242.
Stout A. Discography. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2010;21(4):859-867.
Last reviewed December 2014 by John C. Keel, MD
Last Updated: 12/3/2012