What Does Discography Do?

Damaged Discs are Often the Cause of Lower Back Pain

Back pain is a prominent injury throughout the United States, with around 31 million Americans experiencing lower back pain. Healthcare experts estimate that nearly 80% of American adults will experience back pain at least once in their lives. Unfortunately, a wide array of conditions can cause back pain, making it difficult to diagnose the cause of your chronic pain properly.

While low back pain is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., you do not have to live with it. Pain management doctors will use a host of techniques to find the cause of your back pain. Once they have diagnosed your condition, they will expertly craft a pain management program unique for you.

One method pain management doctors use to diagnose back pain is discography. This non-invasive procedure uses images to determine if there is any damage to the discs in your back. Often, damaged discs are a cause of back pain, such as in the case of degenerative disc disease.  

You might be wondering, “What does discography actually do?” If you or someone you love suffers from chronic back pain, it’s vital to know the types of tests used to diagnose your back pain. It can ease any anxiety you have about seeking treatment. If you would like to learn more about discography for back pain or other options available to you, contact the pain management clinic at Texas Partners Healthcare Group.

What is Discography?

Discography (also known as a discogram or disc stimulation testing) is a specific test doctors use to determine the source of your back pain. Often, doctors will turn to this test if a patient has not responded well to other nonsurgical pain management plans.

Discography checks the discs in your back to see if there is any damage or abnormalities that may be causing your pain. The discs in your spine have a tough, outer layer (referred to as the annulus fibrosus) and a soft, jelly-like core (referred to as the nucleus pulposus). Over time, these discs can wear away, affecting both the inner and outer layers.

The more the discs wear down, the more likely they are to affect your spine and cause pain. However, wear and tear is not the only way spinal discs can sustain damage. Injuries and trauma can also cause bulging or ruptured discs (known as a herniated disc).

Discography for back pain is not a routine test. Doctors generally only use it once other treatment methods (like medication and physical therapy) prove ineffective. Additionally, many doctors will use this technique before surgery to help them identify which damaged discs need work.

How Does It Work?

Doctors perform discography under fluoroscopy (like x-rays), except this test is done in real-time. Fluoroscopy helps doctors place the needle in the center of the disk safely and precisely. During the procedure, a doctor will inject an x-ray dye under gentle pressure into the soft center of one or more discs in the spine. Occasionally, this injection causes mild pain, so your doctor might give you a mild sedative. Antibiotics might also be given to you to prevent infection.

The x-ray dye (also called a contrast agent) will enhance the characteristics of a disc. If there are any abnormalities or damage, your contrast agent will make them easier to see. An x-ray or CT scan will be used to view the discs and see how the dye spreads.

When the contrast agent spreads outside of the disc, it often suggests that there is damage or an abnormality. With the x-ray or CT scan, your doctor will take an image in real-time to examine the disc in question. This allows them to diagnose the problem right away accurately. This image (referred to as a discogram) will either be normal or show tears in the lining of the disc.

Typically, if you experience pain during the injection that is similar to your back pain, it indicates that the damaged disc is the cause of your chronic pain. From here, your pain management doctor will be able to create an effective treatment plan for you.

What Can I Expect During Discography?

As with any procedures, many patients have some worries about this procedure. However, discography is a safe and non-invasive procedure. You should know that you may experience symptoms of your back pain during the test, but nothing extreme.

Other things you can expect during this procedure include:

  • Your doctor will likely have you lie on your stomach during the test.
  • They will monitor your blood pressure, EKG, and oxygen levels during the test.
  • They may use a local anesthetic to numb the injection site.
  • Your doctor might also give you an antibiotic to prevent infections.
  • While you may not always feel pain, your doctor will ask you to rate your pain and compare it to your chronic pain symptoms.
  • If your doctor discovers multiple discs are causing your pain, they will inject each of them with the contrast agent.
  • The test lasts up to an hour.
  • Someone will need to take you home.
  • You might experience pain in the injection site a few hours after the procedure. Cold therapy might ease your pain.

As you can see, discography is a simple procedure. Once the images have been taken, your doctor will review them. The discogram and the information you gave them about your pain will help inform how they move forward. It provides pain management doctors a better idea of what is going on in your back and how they can help you find pain relief.

Typically, they will use the results of a discogram with other tests (like an MRI) to determine what is wrong.

Frisco Pain Management Clinic 

As a premier Frisco pain management clinic, Texas Partners Healthcare Group has helped countless individuals experience pain relief. Whether they suffer from back pain, neck pain, or other conditions like fibromyalgia, our team of pain management doctors will work tirelessly to diagnose and treat your pain accurately.

Discography is just one of many techniques we use to help us accurately diagnose your chronic pain condition. If you suffer from back pain or any other form of chronic pain, give us a call today and let us help you find pain relief.