If you suffer from pain in your back, you’re not alone. Unresolved back pain plagues millions of people across the United States. The CDC reported that in 2016 nearly 50 million U.S. adults suffered from chronic back pain.
One common way physicians figure out the cause of back pain is to perform a discogram procedure. If your doctor recommended a discogram test, you probably have a lot of questions.
Read on to learn all about the discogram procedure and how it works to reveal the source of your chronic back pain.
What is a Discogram Procedure?
A discogram test is an invasive diagnostic procedure that examines the intervertebral discs of the spine using x-rays. These spinal discs act as spongy cushions between the vertebrae (the bones) of the spine. Issues with these discs often cause chronic back pain.
Regular x-rays only provide a picture of the bones and not what’s going on around or inside. Another type of procedure, a myelogram, only offers a view of the spinal canal.
A discogram works well to precisely locate the damaged discs to determine if they are the cause of your back pain. But how can they see the discs if they still use an x-ray?
How a Discogram Procedure Works
A physician uses an x-ray monitor known as a fluoroscope to see into the spine. The arc-shaped machine is also known as a C-arm. It extends from one side of the body to the other and generates x-rays on one side and an image of them on the other side.
Using the fluoroscope machine to guide them, the physician inserts a hollow needle through the skin straight into the center part of the disc space. Then the physician injects a special dye called a contrast dye into the injured disc(s).
The dye floods the disc and makes it visible through the fluoroscope monitor by staining it white. The dye works in two ways.
First, it reveals what the disc looks like and highlights any visible injuries. Second, it tries recreating the pain so your physician can determine if that particular disc is the source.
If you do not feel the same kind of pain, it’s likely your pain originates from another place.
How to Prepare for a Discogram Test
Your doctor should provide instructions on how to prepare for the discogram test when scheduling it. Generally, you cannot eat any solid foods after 12:00 am the night before your procedure.
You will need someone to drop you off and pick you up, so be sure to make arrangements.
Dress in warm, comfortable clothes like sweats or other exercise clothing. Be sure you leave all valuables and jewelry at home.
Also, be sure to inform your doctor of any medications you take since you may need to stop taking them for up to a week before the surgery.
What to Expect Before, During, and After a Discogram Procedure
Expect to be at the hospital or clinic for around 3 hours. The test itself should only take 30-60 minutes depending on how many discs they test. However, there are other things you will need to do while there.
Before Your Test
Just before the procedure, you’ll need to change into a hospital gown. The nurse will come in to put an IV (intravenous) line into your arm.
Then the interventional pain physician or pain specialist willexplain the procedure to you again, answer any last questions, and ask you to sign the consent forms.
During Your Test
You enter the procedure room and lie down on your side or abdomen. The person performing the discogram test will clean your skin and, possibly, inject some numbing medication into the predetermined procedure area on your back.
This will minimize the slight burning sensation caused by inserting the needle.
Using the fluoroscope, the doctor performs the procedure as described above. They then watch what happens to the dye through the machine.
If the dye remains in the center of the disc, the discogram results are normal. If the dye moves through the disc from the center, it shows the disc has suffered some wear and tear and is abnormal.
An abnormal discogram test result may or may not indicate the disc is the source of your back pain. If you felt pain during the procedure similar to the pain you want to have addressed, it’s likely that particular disc is causing your pain.
The radiologist will continually ask you to rate your pain throughout the procedure.
After Your Test
You must stay in the procedure room for observation for another 30-60 minutes. You will need someone to drive you home after being released.
Expect some soreness around the injection site that lasts for several hours after the procedure. Putting an ice pack on for 20 minutes on and 20 minutes off can help as well as taking a pain reliever like ibuprofen (Advil/Motrin).
Are There Any Risks?
There are very few risks associated with a discogram procedure. The biggest concern is whether or not you have an allergy to the contrast dye.
Tell your doctor before the test if you ever experienced an allergic reaction to xylocaine or any other medication.
There’s a slight chance of infection in the spine, but less than 1/10 of 1%. The majority of discogram procedures go as intended with no issue.
Just be sure to alert your doctor if you notice any swelling, bleeding, or pain more than a couple days after the procedure.
Get Relief from Chronic Pain in New Jersey
For chronic pain suffers, it may seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. The longer you suffer in silence, the less chance you have to find a solution.
Speak with a pain specialist doctor about your chronic pain to see if they can diagnose your back pain with a discogram procedure.
Not familiar with any pain specialist doctors near you? If you live in New Jersey, the Pain Management Institute at the Garden State Medical Center is your best option.
Their pain experts perform many invasive and non-invasive procedures to help their patients feel better fast.
Contact Garden State Medical Center today to schedule a consultation. You can also find answers for your other chronic pain questions, like when to see a doctor for joint pain, on their easy-to-understand pain management blog.