Discography is a diagnostic procedure, not a treatment. X-ray dye is injected into the spinal disc(s) and an x-ray (called a “discogram”) is taken. The discogram may be normal or may show tears (fissures) in the lining of the disc. The results of discography can be used to plan spinal surgery or IDET (IntraDiscal ElectroThermal Therapy) or Nucleoplasty. With age or from injury, the wall of the spinal discs can become damaged (such as fissure). This condition is called Internal Disc Disruption or Degenerative Disc Disease. The wall of the disc can weaken and protrude out (a herniated disc). When the disc causes pain, the pain is usually felt as a deep ache in the back and sometimes in the buttocks and into the thighs. Pain from facet joints in the back and from the sacroiliac (SI joints) can be in the same location and feel the same. The best way to tell if the pain is from a damaged disc is with discography.
The procedure is done in a surgical center with fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance. For lumbar discography it is done with you lying on your stomach. You will be given intravenous sedation to help you be comfortable and relaxed. You are watched closely with an EKG monitor, blood pressure cuff and blood oxygen-monitoring device. The skin over the injection site(s) is cleansed with an antiseptic solution and then the injections are performed. When a normal disc is injected, you will feel pain. It is important to try to determine if the pain you are feeling is your “typical pain” or not. When each disc is injected, you will be asked if it is painful, where you feel the pain, and whether it is in the same area as your usual pain. Discography does not treat your condition. It is a diagnostic test that allows your doctors to plan your therapy.