This procedure, which is sometimes referred to as a discogram, helps your doctor locate the source of backpain within your spinal discs. Discography is often an important first step when developing a comprehensive solution for your back pain management and treatment.


To begin, you lie down, generally on your abdomen or side, and are given medicine to help you relax. You will remain awake throughout the procedure, as the sensations you feel during the discography are an important part of the diagnostic test.

Your doctor will utilize a local anesthetic at the injection site to minimize the pain caused by the injection. The needle will be guided to the suspected problem discs using fluoroscope guidance. Each disc that is potentially the cause of your back pain will receive its own needle, so some patients may undergo several injections at once.

Once the needle is properly positioned it will inject dye into the disc, which will increase pressure in the disc.

If the dye injection causes the same type of back pain you experience daily, it’s likely that the disc is the culprit. An X-ray or CT scan will also be performed to track the spread of the contrast dye. The dye should stay in the center of an uninjured disc. If the dye spreads outside the center of the disc it is often a sign of wear, tear or damage to the disc.

The images and the pain sensations you experience during a discography will likely be used to determine what types of additional diagnostics you will need and where imaging should be directed to diagnose the cause of your back pain more precisely.

How long a discography takes depends on the number of discs your orthopaedist will be testing. In most cases the discography will take between 30 and 60 minutes, but the entire length of your appointment, including numbing and a short observation after the procedure, might be about three hours.

Patients may feel soreness in their back following the procedure, but pain is generally minor and temporary. Your orthopaedist may recommend using an ice pack to the test site. Patients who undergo a discography should keep their back and especially the injection sites dry for 24 hours after the procedure.


What Does a Discography Tell Your Orthopaedist?

Your own personal experience during the procedure is a vital component of this diagnostic test, which is why it’s important to be open and honest during the procedure. The pain you identify will be correlated with the testing images during the procedure to pinpoint the precise source of your back pain. This information will be used to target further non-invasive treatments and develop a comprehensive back pain treatment plan.

Without an accurate understanding of the root cause of your pain, all your doctors can do is manage the symptoms you’re experiencing. Discography can help doctors to accurately diagnose the source of your pain, which is vital to determining what to do next.

In some cases, it may be necessary to utilize additional diagnostic imaging targeted at that specific pain source, which is why a discography may lead to additional MRI or CT scans.

Are There Risks Associated with Discography?

Complications from discography are rare, and many of the potential complications are those that accompany most injection and diagnostic procedures. Rare complications include:

  • Headaches
  • Infection
  • Nerve or blood vessel injuries near injection site
  • Allergic reactions to the contrast dye
  • Exacerbation of back pain

Learn More About Discography at Non-Surgical Orthopaedics

If your doctor, chiropractor or orthopaedic specialist has recommended undergoing a discography or other diagnostic and imaging procedures to identify the source of your chronic or acute back pain, Non-Surgical Orthopaedics can help. Patients in Marietta or Carrollton should call us at 770-421-1420 or fill out our online form for additional information on lumbar discography.