How to Prepare For a Discogram: Risks, Preparing, Results

Posted on November 6, 2018

Discogram procedures are a common tool that physicians use to help understand the extent and severity of back pain in their patients. However, many patients do not understand what this procedure entails and its given risks.


Our article is going to help you learn about this procedure by explaining its basics and exploring its various risks. We will also briefly touch on the what the results of this test mean to your doctor and you.

Discography Medical Procedure Basics

What Is A Discography?

Medicine discography procedures are actually very commonplace for pain management centers. In medicine discography, the primary goal is to evaluate back pain in patients. With this in mind, it’s routinely used for patients with a wide range of spinal issues and chronic back pain. However, it’s generally only recommended for patients with severe forms of back pain that don’t respond well to other treatment methods.

The procedure entails the use of a small needle being inserted into the soft center of one or more of your back’s discs. Using a special imaging technique called fluoroscopy, your doctor will watch the needle enter your body to ensure it reaches the appropriate area. They will then inject a special dye to gauge how it impacts the target area. Shortly after, an X-ray or CT scan is taken to see how the dye moves.

For normal discs, the dye should be fairly contained. However, the dye can also move from the target area. This is a sign of a disc that is damaged and can be a likely cause of back pain. For some users, the dye spreading can also cause pain similar to what they experience each day. Your doctor may sometimes ask you to rate your pain level to help determine its effect on your back pain as well.

Discography Spine Procedure Risks

Discography spine procedures are generally considered to be safe and effective. As with any procedure, there are still some potential risks and complications that patients should be aware of.

One of the main risks associated with the discography medical procedure is the possibility of infection. This is due to the fact that a needle is inserted into the skin that creates a pathway for infection to develop. To combat this, your doctor will likely administer an antibiotic during the procedure.

Spine Procedure Risks

Another potential complication is an allergic reaction to the dye used in the procedure. While this is very rare, it can still occur. Depending on the severity of the reaction, patients may encounter a wide range of symptoms ranging from itching skin to difficulty breathing.

Less common risks and side effects include worsening back pain, damage to the blood vessels in the treatment area, and headaches. However, these types of issues can often be reduced by choosing a doctor who has ample experience in conducting the procedure.

How To Prepare For Your Procedure

One of the most important things to keep in mind about this procedure is that your doctor may recommend avoiding certain blood-thinning medications. In addition, you should be sure to allocate an ample amount of time for your procedure to be conducted.

preparing to procedure

In the case of lumbar discography procedures, the amount of time may be a little longer than usual. This is likely due to the increased number of vertebrae that are being examined. In most cases, discogram procedures can be completed in three hours or less. The procedure itself tends to only last anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes.

Your doctor may also recommend that you make sure you are hydrated well. Just remember to always follow their specific recommendations to ensure that you receive the best results possible from your discogram procedure.

Understanding The Results

Regardless if it is a lumbar discography or a discography on the upper spine, the results are interpreted in much the same way. Your doctor will take a close look at the X-rays or CT scan results after your procedure.

They will be looking for areas where the dye spread substantially from the injection site. This will give them a rough idea of how damaged the given vertebra is. The more dye that is spreading, the more likely that the vertebra is the cause of back pain in the given area.

However, it’s important to note that a doctor will almost never rely solely on the results of a discogram. They will likely also perform a thorough physical examination and may order additional diagnostic tests of the treatment area. Using this information, your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan to help you effectively manage your chronic back pain.