Discography is a diagnostic test that is performed in order to determine if an abnormal disk is causing pain in an individual. In general, a person undergoes this procedure only if other measures have not provided satisfactory relief from pain. When medications, physical therapies, epidurals and modifications of daily activities fail, a physician may suggest a discography as a gateway to a new treatment plan.
Because discography is invasive, it’s generally reserved for individuals who have experienced back pain for extended periods. According to the National Institute of Health, discography may be considered if the pain has lasted at least three months and has been nonresponsive to moderate or conventional treatments. The procedure may also be necessary if the discomfort is severe enough to require surgery or if back surgery has failed.
The process varies depending on the severity of the patient’s pain as well as his or her medical health and history. In general, specific disks throughout the spinal area are injected with needles, and images similar to X-rays are taken of the injection sites. A contrast dye is injected to show any tears or bulges in the disks. After each needle insertion, the health care provider may ask the patient to rate or describe his or her pain.
The entire procedure may take 30 to 45 minutes depending on how many injections are needed. An additional 30 minutes may be required if the physician performs a CT scan. In most cases, recovery time is short. Many people experience residual pain in the muscles from the injections, but the discomfort typically subsides within an hour. Some individuals may have intense soreness at the injection sites for several hours after the procedure.
There are many benefits to undergoing a discography. The main advantage is that it allows the health care provider to effectively analyze the structure of the patient’s disks. The real-time data can be used to diagnose the cause of the person’s back pain and plan a treatment therapy. Because discography is minimally invasive and can be performed in an outpatient setting, it’s a viable option for virtually anyone suffering from spinal related pain.
Although serious complications are rare, there are some risks to undergoing discography. The most common is discitis, which is a painful infection and inflammation of the disk space. Other potential complications include headaches, nausea, bleeding, nerve damage, an increase in back pain, and temporary weakness or numbness. Some people also have allergic reactions to the contrast. Certain health issues can be exacerbated as a result as well.
A pain management doctor typically combines the results of a discography with findings from other tests, procedures and examinations. If the injected contrast liquid spreads through a disk or the patient’s discomfort at the injection site is linked to his or her daily pain, the physician can determine if there is a disk abnormality. The data collected is then used to design a pain management solution or surgical treatment plan for the patient.