A lumbar discogram is the most effective diagnostic tool a physician has at his/her disposal for investigating a patient’s low back pain with a suspected disc problem. This technique allows the physician to examine the discs for painful degeneration.
What will a Lumbar Discogram treat?
This technique is not a method of treatment and will not directly improve, prevent, or change the cause of symptomatic pain within a patient. It is a tool used only to locate and diagnose the source of pain in the low back. Discograms are also used to rule out potential causes of pain, which can assist a physician in identifying the real root cause.
How is a Lumbar Discogram performed?
This is a simple outpatient procedure that can be performed with the patient only under local anesthetic. In fact, this is the only option available to the patient as they must remain partially awake in order to answer questions regarding their discs during the injection process. Patients will be placed prone to provide access to their spine, and the skin over the discs in question will be sterilized and numbed in preparation for injection.
Once the skin has been numbed, a catheter will be guided into the disc through the use of fluoroscopic imaging (a series of X-rays taken to generate a current image of the location of the catheter). Once placed correctly, a dye will be injected into the disc.
This will allow the disc to be visible during other imaging techniques, providing the physician a means to examine the disc. It is common for more than one disc to be examined in a single procedure. The minimum number of examined discs is two: a healthy disc to serve as point-of-comparison, and the disc in question that may be the source of pain.
Even though the patient must remain partially awake during a discogram, there should be no adverse reaction. The dye that is injected into a healthy disc will not create a reaction within the patient and should not be felt as anything but pressure.
The dye injected into a damaged disc will feel similar to the symptomatic pains being experienced prior to the discogram, and should be reported to the physician immediately. If the pain felt during this injection is similar to previous symptoms, it is likely that the disc being injected is the actual source of pain.
How well do Lumbar Discograms work?
Remember that this is not a treatment for the patient and will not create a feeling of relief. As a diagnostic tool, however, the effectiveness of a discogram relies entirely on the ability of the physician performing the procedure and the ability of the patient to accurately convey what they are experiencing.
Between the imaging performed on the dyed discs and the response of the patient during the procedure, many physicians are able to perform an accurate diagnosis of the patient’s source of pain.
What are the risks of a Lumbar Discogram?
There is the normal small chance of infection, bleeding, swelling, or pain at the site of injection. Other than these, there is little risk associated with this procedure. It is possible for the placement of the catheter to disturb a spinal root, resulting in an inflammatory response and some pain, but this will often fade in a few days without the need for further treatment.
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