Discogram — what to expect during your discogram test

Patients who experience chronic pain in the neck or back may be recommended to undergo a discogram test. A discogram is a type of imaging test that gives a more accurate view of the discs in the spine so the physician can accurately diagnose the cause and location of the diseased disc in the spine.

There are several spine conditions that can be caused be a diseased or damaged disc in the spine. These conditions are called degenerative spine conditions, and the damaged disc is often referred to as degenerative disc disease. While these conditions are commonly mild and can be treated with conservative, non-surgical therapy, a discogram test is needed to accurately determine the severity of the condition so the physician can recommend the right form of treatment.

What to expect during the discogram test

During the discogram test, your physician will cleanse the skin on your back and inject you with a slight numbing medication to prepare you for the test. Once the local anesthetic begins to work, contrast dye will be injected into the disc in the spine that is suspected to be the source of pain. The dye moves throughout the inner fluid of the disc and gathers in areas of cracks or breaks in the outer layer of the disc. This allows the doctor to see on the X-ray or CT scan which areas of the disc are damaged and to what extent. Additionally, if a disc is herniated or bulging, the contrast dye may leak into the spinal canal, indicating a crack in the disc. This could help the physician determine the cause of your neck pain or back pain.

While a discogram is a low risk procedure, any invasive testing could include some risks, such as:

  • Worsening of the back or neck pain
  • Infection of the disc (discitis)
  • Nerve damage
  • Headache or nausea
  • An allergic response to the dye

A physician may prescribe an antibiotic medication to help prevent infection and other reactions to the contrast dye used in the test. Because it is an invasive procedure, a discogram is only used if an MRI test does not clearly show the location of a damaged disc.

If you have any questions about the discogram test or treatment options for a damaged disc in the spine, please consult our Care Team at Laser Spine Institute. We are here to help you find answers so you can make an informed decision about your spine care needs.