Discography is an imaging test of the spine. It uses contrast material and x-ray.
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Reasons for Test
This test is done to find the cause of back pain, such as an abnormal disc. Discs are the small, circular cushions between the bones in the spine.
Problems are rare, but all procedures have some risk. The doctor will go over some problems that could happen, such as:
- Injury to nerves or blood vessels around the spine
- Allergic reaction to the contrast agent or anesthesia
What to Expect
Prior to Test
The care team may meet with you to talk about:
- Any allergies you may have
- Current medicines, herbs, and supplements that you take and whether you need to stop taking them before the procedure
- Whether you need a ride to and from the procedure
The doctor may give you a local anesthesia. The area will be numbed.
Description of the Test
You will lie on your belly or side on a table. Images will be used to guide a needle through the skin into the center of a disc. Contrast material will be injected. The needle will be removed. An x-ray will be taken. The liquid will stay in the center of a normal disc. The liquid will spread or leak from the center of an abnormal disc.
During the exam, you will be asked to rate any pain from the injections. This can help the doctor locate an abnormal disc.
After this test, the doctor may do a CT scan to see how much the contrast material has spread.
How Long Will It Take?
About 30 to 60 minutes. An extra 30 to 60 minutes if a CT scan is also done.
Will It Hurt?
Pain is common at the injection site or in the low back. It may last several hours. Medicine and home care can help.
The doctor will call you to discuss the results of the test.
Call Your Doctor
Call the doctor if you are not getting better or you have:
- Signs of infection, such as fever and chills
- Swelling or discharge from the injection site
- Pain that you cannot control with medicine
- Numbness or weakness in the legs
- Nausea or vomiting
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
Chronic low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/chronic-low-back-pain. Accessed September 29, 2020.
Discography (discogram). Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=discography. Accessed September 29, 2020.
Last AR, Hulbert K. Chronic low back pain: evaluation and management. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Jun 15;79(12):1067-1074.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Warren A. Bodine, DO, CAQSM Last Updated:6/8/2021