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 any potential problems.

There are several spine conditions that can be caused by a damaged disc in the spine, including degenerative disc disease, bulging discs and herniated discs. While these conditions are often not serious and can be treated with conservative therapy, a discogram test can sometimes be needed to accurately determine the severity and location 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 doctor 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 doctor 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.

Treatment options for disc conditions

Upon learning the extent of and location of the disc damage, your doctor can help you develop a more targeted treatment plan, including the possibility of surgery if conservative options like physical therapy or epidural steroid injections have been fully exhausted. Patients researching surgical options should consider the minimally invasive spine surgery at Laser Spine Institute, which is a safer and effective alternative to traditional open spine surgery.^

To learn more, please reach out to the caring team at Laser Spine Institute. We can help you receive a free MRI review* to determine if you are a potential candidate for one of our procedures.