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Discography is a procedure for diagnosing painful tears in the intervertebral discs found between the bones of the spine. Common tests such as MRIs can show disc bulges and nerve root compression, but may miss tears or leaks in discs. Generally, patients who undergo discography have not gotten satisfactory pain relief from non-operative measures such as medication, physical therapy and modified activities. They usually have had back pain for at least 4 to 6 months.

What to expect

During discography, a thin needle is inserted into the center of a disc. It is usually performed under IV sedation to help the patient relax. An X-ray contrast dye is then injected into the disc to identify whether or not the disc is painful. The dye also functions to outline the tears in the disc. The procedure is repeated on several discs to pinpoint the location of pain and the torn disc.

During the procedure the physician will check for any increase in your pain. Therefore, it is important to describe any pain you feel to your doctor. A healthy disc will not cause your usual pain but a torn disc may. If you feel a different pain or soreness, be sure to explain that it hurts but it is not your usual pain. This will help the doctor determine the discs responsible for your pain.

After the procedure

After the procedure, you will be monitored for up to 30 minutes. When you are ready to leave, the clinic will give you discharge instructions. You will be sent for a CT scan to get an image of your discs. A follow up appointment will be scheduled with the doctor to discuss the results of the discography and your doctor will recommend the best treatment for you based on the results.

Treatment effectiveness

You may feel increased pain in your back after the discography. This indicates that your doctor may have found the source of your pain. You can resume work a day or two after discography, but always check with your doctor.

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