What is a discogram?

A discogram is a procedure which is performed to determine which disc (or discs) is the cause of your pain. A discogram is usually done prior to surgery. A discogram is an x-ray examination of the discs after injecting dye into the disc. In a normal disc the dye stays in the centre. Injecting dye into a normal disc does not usually cause pain. If the disc has torn fibres, the dye spreads into the damaged parts, which is most likely to be the cause of pain. You will then be asked about the intensity of pain (if any) and whether it is similar (or different) to your usual back pain.

How do I prepare for the discogram?

The discogram is performed as a day case procedure. You should expect to stay in hospital for 2-5 hours. Your surgeon will ask you to sign a consent form in the clinic or on the day of the procedure. You will also be asked if you are on any blood thinning medication or if you are allergic to iodine. You require to fast for 6 hours before the procedure as it is done under sedation. You should not drive after the procedure for at least 24 hours, and you should have someone staying with you at home. You are advised not to use public transport alone on that day.

How is the discogram performed?

You are required to lie on your stomach for 20-40 minutes. A cannula is inserted into a vein in your arm. You will receive antibiotics and sedative medication through the cannula. You will receive light sedation, as you are required to be awake to provide information about the pain you have (if any) during the procedure. The skin will be cleaned with antiseptic solution and local anesthetic will be injected. A needle will be inserted into the disc and dye injected under x-ray control. Your surgeon will ask you if the pain you are having (if any) is similar to your usual back pain, and also ask you to rate the pain from 0-10.

What do I expect after the discogram?

After the procedure you will be taken to the recovery suite. The recovery nurse will check your blood pressure and pulse, and you should expect to be there for 20-30 minutes. After that you will be taken to your cubicle and you can then eat and drink. You will be given an appointment for review to fully discuss the results of the discogram.

What are the risks of a discogram?

Back pain for several days after the discogram is common. There is a small risk of infection (discitis) after the discogram (less than 1%). Antibiotics are given into the vein before the discogram and also injected into the disc to reduce the risk of infection. There is a small risk of an allergic reaction to the dye, or damage to the surrounding structures. Rarely, patients cannot tolerate the procedure.