Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar Discography

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The discs are soft, cushion-like pads which separate the hard vertebral bones of your spine. A disc may be painful when it bulges, herniates, tears or degenerates and may cause pain in your neck, mid-back, low back and/or arms, chest wall, abdomen and legs. Other structures in your spine may also cause similar pain such as the muscles, joints and nerves. Usually, we have first determined that these other structures are not your sole pain source (through history and physical examination, review of x-rays, CT/MRI, and/or other diagnostic injection procedures such as facet and sacroiliac joint injections and nerve root blocks) before performing discography.


Discography confirms or denies the disc(s) as a source of your pain. It is a relatively simple procedure that uses a small needle to inject contrast dye into your disc. MRI and CT scans only demonstrate anatomy and cannot absolutely prove your pain source. In many instances, the discs may be abnormal on MRI or CT scans but not be a source of pain. Only discography, which is a functional test, can tell if the disc itself is a source of your pain. Therefore, discography is done to identify painful disc(s) and help the surgeon plan the correct surgery or avoid surgery that may not be beneficial. Discography is usually done only if you think your pain is significant enough for you to consider surgery or more advanced treatment options.


An IV will be started so that antibiotics (to prevent infection) and relaxation medicine can be given. You will lie on your back for cervical discography, on your stomach for thoracic and lumbar discography. After cleaning the area, the physician will numb a small area of skin which may sting for a few seconds.  Next, the physician will use fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance to direct a small needle into your disc. You may feel temporary discomfort as the needle passes through the muscle or near a nerve root. The physician may repeat this at several adjoining disc levels. After the needles are in their proper locations, a small amount of contrast dye is injected into each disc. If a disc is the source of your usual pain the injection will temporarily reproduce your symptoms. If a disc is not the source of your pain than the injection will not reproduce your symptoms or cause any discomfort.


Immediately afterwards you may be taken for a CT scan. After this procedure, it is important to refrain from driving for eight hours. Following your CT scan, there will be a waiting period of 30-45 minutes before you can leave and go home. If you prefer, we can provide you with a prescription for pain medication to alleviate any muscle soreness you may experience over the next 2-3 days.


You should eat a light, but not a full meal at least 2 hours before the procedure. If you are an insulin dependent diabetic do not alter your normal food intake. Take your routine medications before the procedure (such as high blood pressure and diabetes medications). Stop aspirin and all anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. Motrin/Ibuprofen, Aleve, Relafen, Daypro) 3 days before the procedure. These medicines may be re-started the day after the procedure. You may take your regular pain medicine as needed before/after the procedure.  If you are on Coumadin, Heparin, Lovenex, Plavix or Ticlid you must notify the office so that the timing of stopping these medications can be explained. If you are currently taking antibiotics, please notify our office as we may need to postpone the procedure. In case you have an active infection or fever, the procedure will not be performed.As an outpatient, your stay at the surgery center will typically last 2-3 hours. It is important to arrange for a driver to accompany you. The following day, you can resume your normal activities, including returning to work.

For a deeper understanding of the medical procedure, we invite you to watch this informative video on Lumbar Discography that demonstrates the process.

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