Four out of five people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Because of its prevalence, accurate diagnosis is a must. Because many maladies have similar symptoms, a physical examination and medical history are often not enough to determine the cause of back pain and the right way to treat it. Discography allows us to accurately diagnose the source of your pain so that we can put together the right treatment to alleviate it.

What Is Discography?

Discography is a diagnostic technique that doctors use to view the internal structure of a spinal disc. This, in turn, allows them to determine the exact source of your pain.

The technique has its roots in an older method called a discogram, which was used by Scandinavian doctors to locate painful spinal lesions. During the 1960s, this diagnostic test was further developed through clinical research. Now, it is a highly useful tool for diagnosing issues that cannot be detected using non-invasive procedures like MRIs.

Discography is effective at diagnosing pain in the back, neck and legs. With a proper diagnosis, your doctor can recommend the correct treatment to help you heal from back pain and prevent it from occurring again in the future.

How Is Discography Performed?

Discography involves injecting contrast dye into the spinal disc or discs that are likely to be causing your back pain. Your skin and deeper tissues will be numbed using a local anesthetic. An IV may be used on patients who need help relaxing during the procedure.

The patient is positioned on an X-ray equipped table. Then, with the aid of X-ray guidance, they will insert a needle into the affected disc and inject the contrast dye. Once the dye is injected, the area is monitored to observe the flow pattern and your pain response using a real-time X-ray known as a fluoroscope. If an injection into a spinal disc causes the same type of pain the patient has been experiencing, this is an indication that this is the disc causing the issue.

Discography takes about 30 to 45 minutes, depending on how many discs are being tested. This is followed by a brief observed recovery time after the procedure. Since this is a quick and safe procedure, it is performed on an outpatient basis. On the day of the procedure, you may feel some discomfort that can be alleviated with ice and oral pain killers. Most people are ready to get back to their normal routine within a day or two after the test. While the procedure is considered safe, some people do experience side effects afterward. These can include temporary numbness, paralysis, bleeding, nerve damage and infection.

Discography can be especially valuable in helping patients avoid unnecessary surgery. A discography can help identify issues and, depending on what is found, prevent a physician from moving on to a more invasive surgical procedure like a lumbar spinal fusion.

Conditions Diagnosed with Discography

Discography can help your doctor identify a number of conditions that all may be leading to back pain. Some of these include:

  • Herniated discs. These occur when the discs in your spine rupture and the jelly-like fluid inside the discs is pushed out. These are most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50 years old. They occur most often in the neck and lower back region. Common symptoms include pain and numbness.
  • Facet syndrome. This condition involves friction between the facets on your spine that lead to stiffness, tenderness, swelling and arthritis-like pain. Older adults may experience facet pain as a result of normal age-related wear and tear. This condition can also occur in younger adults as a result of injury or overuse.
  • Discogenic back pain. This condition involves pain that is a result of gradual changes that happen in joints over time. While the discs in our back are composed primarily of water when we are younger, they get drier over time and become more susceptible to cracks and fissures. Discogenic back pain often involves moderate to severe recurring pain. While it's most common in people over 30, it can also occur in younger individuals as a result of injury.
  • Sacroiliac (SI) joint dysfunction. The SI joints connect your hips to your back. When these joints are injured or irritated, the result can be severe pain in the legs and lower back. This is a condition that is often mistaken for sprains, bursitis or nerve irritation in the lower back. Because of this, discography is an important diagnostic tool for identifying SI issues. Young and middle-aged women are most at risk for SI joint dysfunction.
  • Compression fractures. Discography can eliminate disc issues from consideration so that a correct diagnosis can be discovered.
  • Stenosis. This condition, caused by a narrowing of the spinal canal, can cause back pain that is frequently experienced when standing. It is most common in people who are over the age of 50.

At Gulf Coast Pain Institute, we are dedicated to finding the source of your pain and doing what is necessary to get you back to 100%. Are you experiencing back pain that just won't go away? Get in touch. We'll schedule a consultation get to the bottom of your issue so you can get back to your life.

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