What Is a Lumbar Discography?

Experiencing persistent pain in your back or neck can be debilitating. For many people, the cause of the pain stems from problems in the spine, such as in the vertebrae or the discs in between. Sometimes the use of pain medications, injections, adjustments, and physical therapy can help minimize pain. But what happens if the pain persists despite ongoing treatments? In this case, you may benefit from speaking to your Indianapolis neurosurgeon about lumbar discography.

Lumbar Discography

A lumbar discography is a diagnostic testing procedure used to determine if a disc is the cause of back or neck pain. The test may be performed on one or more discs in the spine, and is often used prior to spinal surgery, such as a lumbar fusion. Lumbar fusion involves joining one or more vertebrae to prevent motion in that area of the spine that is causing the pain. The lumbar discogram is performed by a discographer. While a discogram should not necessarily be performed on its own, it can aid other tests such as x-rays and CT scans in determining what discs are producing the pain being experienced.

Spinal Discs

Your spine is composed of a series of vertebrae that allow the spinal movement of twisting and bending. In between the vertebrae are discs that act as cushions. Over time, discs can become herniated, or even displaced. An x-ray or CT scan will expose abnormal discs, but an abnormal disc is not always a painful disc, whereas a disc that appears less altered may be the cause of the pain. That is where the discogram comes in, as it is not about the shape of the disc, but if the pressure applied induces pain in the disc.

The Procedure

During a lumbar discography, you will be kept awake in order to report your experience during the procedure. Your Indianapolis neurosurgeon may apply a mild intravenous sedative, however, to put you in a more relaxed state. The tissue from your skin to the surface of your disc may be numbed to help reduce pain from the insertion of needles. A needle will be inserted by a discographer into the disc that requires testing, and a sterile dye will be inserted into the disc center. The dye pressurizes the disc center, and you will need to describe any sensations you experience, whether it is pressure, pain, or nothing at all. If you do feel pain, you will be asked to determine whether the pain is what you normally experience (familiar), or if it is out of the ordinary (unfamiliar). Experiencing familiar pain is indicative of a problem disc. After the procedure, the needles are removed and an x-ray or CT scan may be taken. The dye will be able to expose any cracks or other abnormalities within the disc on the resulting image. 

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