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Why You Might Need a Discogram and What to Expect

Why You Might Need a Discogram and What to Expect

Your spine is an intricate network of bones, joints, ligaments, and other tissue structures that work together to provide the support and flexibility you need to move through your day. It also protects the spinal cord containing the nerves that transmit signals to and from your brain to the rest of your body.

Although amazingly strong, the daily workload demanded of your spine also makes it vulnerable to painful injury and disease. Our team at the Center for the Functional Restoration of the Spine (CFRS) provides expert diagnoses and highly effective treatments for conditions that threaten your spinal health.

Read how a discogram assists our orthopedic specialists in accurately identifying the cause of your back pain and what you can expect during and after the procedure.

Why would I need a discogram?

Intervertebral discs are small round structures that sit snugly between the vertebrae in your spine. Acting much like tiny shock absorbers, each disc contains a soft jellylike center (nucleus) that’s surrounded by a tough rubbery exterior (annulus).

A traumatic injury or degenerative changes that occur as you age may allow the nucleus to bulge into and sometimes rupture through the annulus, leading to disc herniation. 

A discogram is an imaging study that helps your CFRS specialist determine which intervertebral disc is responsible for your pain as well as the extent of damage to the structure.

This knowledge guides us in designing a treatment strategy that best suits your individual needs. It’s especially helpful when your pain has not responded as expected to conservative therapies.

Why are herniated discs so painful?

Not all herniated discs are painful. Some individuals, in fact, experience little to no discomfort. Your level of pain is often determined by how the herniation affects the shape and positioning of the disc.

When, for instance, the nucleus pushes against a nearby nerve or into the spinal canal, you may experience tingling, numbness, and burning pain that travels along the nerves and into your buttocks, legs, or arms.

If there is no nerve involvement, you may experience mild to moderate discomfort localized to the area of herniation or, sometimes, no pain at all. Notably, however, a herniation can worsen over time and change the nature and severity of your symptoms.

What can I expect during and after a discogram?

The discogram is an outpatient procedure we do here in our facility. We may ask you to refrain from taking some of your routine medications before the study. You remain awake but under sedation during the study, which typically takes about 20 minutes to complete.

At the start of the test, we inject contrast dye into the targeted disc as X-rays are taken of the area. The dye “lights up” portions of the disc that are not visible on a standard X-ray, and reveals leakage of the nucleus material into the surrounding tissue. For further clarity, we might also request a CT scan at the time of the study.

You may notice discomfort as the dye is injected into the disc, especially if the targeted area is indeed the source of your pain. We continue to monitor your vital signs for a short while after the discogram and then release you home to rest for the remainder of the day and overnight. 

If you have back pain and suspect it may be related to a disc problem, schedule a visit at CFRS today. 

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