While most people are familiar with Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or MRI tests, discography is a procedure that is much less known. Discography is a procedure that a back or neck surgeon may request in cases where a patient is reporting neck pain that is not connected to a herniated disc or cervical radiculopathy. In these cases, where pain is not being generated by pressure being put on a nerve, the suspicion is that the pain is coming from within the cervical disc itself. Discography can confirm this suspicion so that a neck surgeon is better able to guide you through your next steps.
How Is Discography Performed?
During a discography, a dye is injected into the discs that are suspected of having degenerative disease in order to determine whether they are the source of your pain. An X-ray is then taken of the discs in question to determine whether there are any tears in the disc’s lining or any other signs of deterioration within the disc itself.
Though there have been some questions as to whether the cervical discs are innervated and a disc able to generate pain on its own, a recent study published in the Journal of Pain Research has asserted that when a cervical discography is performed, the information provided to physicians can provide a better surgical outcome, as it pinpoints for physicians which of the discs with potential for interior damage actually displays signs of deterioration, thus maximizing the chances for success when intervention is indicated.
Discography is performed using a local anesthetic in order to minimize patient discomfort, as well as a sedating drug. You will not be completely “out” as you will need to communicate what you are feeling with your physician. The good news is that there’s a good chance that after the procedure is done you will remember little or nothing of what happened.
You will be asked to lie on your stomach and your skin will be cleaned at the injection site with an antiseptic. Your vital signs will be monitored. Like many other injections involving the spine, you will likely feel some pressure when the needle containing the dye is injected, and when the dye is inserted into healthy discs you will likely feel nothing but pressure. You may feel discomfort when an abnormal disc is injected, and if so the diagnostician will ask you to describe the pain.
The procedure generally takes less than an hour, depending upon how many discs are suspected of being the source of your pain.
It is important to remember that a discography is not meant to be curative – it is strictly diagnostic and will not do anything to relieve your pain. It may, however, provide your cervical spine specialist with valuable information from which they can move forward with a better informed treatment plan.
For more information on how we can help you with your neck pain and provide you with the relief you need, contact our office today to set up an appointment.