Diagnostic Discography

When a patient is experiencing pain, minimally-invasive therapeutic techniques can be used to try to treat the area that is thought to be causing the pain. However, these techniques can be ineffective if more drastic methods are necessary to fix the problem, or if the pain generator has not been accurately identified. A discography is a diagnostic tool used to gain a better understanding of whether discs are responsible for the pain the patient is feeling and, if so, which disc or discs in particular have become problematic. Once this procedure has been performed, doctors will have a better idea of where the problem is and will be able to more accurately predict the outcome of surgery.

During a discography, the patient is given local anesthetic and a sedative that calms the patient, but does not make them unconscious. A needle is guided via x-ray to a disc in the back. Liquid dye is injected through the needle and into the disc. CT scans are taken that track the movement of the dye. Depending on where the dye goes, the doctors can determine whether the disc is torn, bulged, or scarred. Because it can be difficult to ascertain whether the disc is the primary pain generator solely by its appearance, the patient is also asked to report whether they feel any pain when the liquid enters the disc. This process is repeated for each disc that is suspected to be problematic, based on the patient’s symptoms.

Because spine surgeries are risky and tend to have long recovery times, it is good idea to make sure that the outcome will be worth the risks involved. Diagnostic discography is a useful tool that helps establish what the outcomes of different surgeries will be.

Side effects and outcomes are unique to each patient and will be discussed before any treatment options are prescribed.