What is a discogram and how is it performed?

A discogram is a diagnostic test performed to view and assess a disc to determine if it is a source of pain. This test is done by injecting a dye into the center of the disc while using a type of x-ray called fluoroscopy. The injection pressurizes the disc and, if the disc is abnormal, will result in a recreation of the pain. Keep in mind that this is a painful procedure that may result in discomfort in your back for a few days afterward. For this reason, we ask that you bring your pain medicine with you. This procedure takes 30 to 40 minutes.

In the procedure room, you will meet the neuroradiologist (either Dr. Rothfus or Dr. Bartynski) and the technician (who operates the fluoroscopy equipment). The technician will position you on your stomach or back, depending on the area of your spine being injected. Your blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels will be monitored, and you will receive light sedation and pain medication through an intravenous line in your arm. Using a sterile technique, the doctor will prep your skin with a cleaning solution to prevent infection. After the local anesthetic, the doctor will then use the x-ray machine to guide and place the needle. Once inserted, the contrast dye is injected and the doctor will ask questions regarding you pain level and location of discomfort. Following the injection of the discs, you will be taken for a CT scan, after which you will return to the short stay surgery unit where you will be provided with something to eat and drink.

After one hour you may go home. Upon discharge, you will be asked to rest for 24 hours and refrain from driving or operating machinery for 24 hours.

Before the Procedure:

Once scheduled for the discogram, you will be contacted by one of the spine nurses. You will be asked to provide information regarding you current problem, past medical history and medications. She will provide you with detailed instructions on how to prepare for the upcoming procedure. You will be asked to hold any blood thinning medications such as Coumadin, Plavix, Aspirin, and any NSAIDS. Any insurance questions can be answered by your referring physician.

The Day of the Procedure:

Prior to arrival, we ask that you refrain from eating or drinking after midnight the night before. Please hold any pain medications that morning, but bring them with you. You must bring your most recent MRI with you. We do not dispense or provide prescriptions for medications after the procedure. You will need someone to drive you home. Patients without a driver will be rescheduled for another day.

What are the potential side effects of a discogram?

A discogram is a very safe procedure, although there are always some potential side effects to consider, which include a reaction to the contrast dye, bleeding, infection and pain.

How soon can I return to my normal activities after a discogram?

You can return to your normal activities 24 hours after the procedure.

Is a discogram covered by insurance?

You should direct any insurance questions to your referring physician and/or insurance provider.