Lumbar Discography

Why is this procedure done?

A lumbar discogram may be ordered if you have failed to get any relief of your back pain from conservative measures such medication and exercise and your doctor is trying to determine which disc is causing your back pain. It is sometimes used prior to surgery in addition to MRI or CT .

How is lumbar discography done?

This procedure is performed by a physician certified in anesthesia and pain medicine using live x-ray in either the office or surgery center setting. It typically takes just a few minutes and may be performed either with just local anesthetic or IV sedation in the surgery center, depending on patient preference.

You will be taken back to an exam room and be asked a series of questions and asked to sign several papers and/or consent forms. We will describe the procedure you are scheduled to undergo and what to expect.

You will be taken into the room where the procedure will be performed. Here, you will be asked to either remove your shirt and change into a gown or undo your pants and lie on a table.

An area of your skin will then be cleaned/sterilized, which may feel cold. You will then feel an injection with a small needle into your skin to numb the area. The needle is advanced to the target area under fluoroscopic (x-ray) guidance. A small amount of x-ray contrast (dye) will be injected to confirm accurate placement and to see where the dye goes in relation to the disc. This may reproduce the pain similar to your back pain and can help the physicians determine if the disc is the source of the pain.

You will then return to the exam room. You will typically need to remain for 15 – 20 minutes to recover depending on your type of procedure.

What are my risks? What are common complications?

Lumbar discography is extremely safe. However, all procedures have the possibility of complications such as bleeding, infection, allergic reactions and possible nerve injury. Another risk is a failure to identify the disc causing pain. The procedure may temporarily increase your pain.

You may experience flushing of the face or increased hunger, increased pressure at the injection site, muscle cramping or hiccups.

What do I need to know before the procedure?

Ensure you know the location where you are to have your procedure. We have a procedure suite on the second floor of our Carmel office location as well as our Avon and Greenwood office locations, but we also perform procedures in a few ambulatory surgery centers in the Indianapolis area.

You must bring a driver with you to the procedure. This person will need to be able to drive you home and give you some assistance following the procedure. This is necessary for your safety as well as the safety of others.

You may take your regularly prescribed medications such as blood pressure, heart, diabetes and pain medications the day of your procedure.

If you take any blood thinners—for example Coumadin, aspirin, Plavix, Xeralto, Eliquis or Ticlid—make sure we are aware of this medication as soon as possible. You will be given specific instructions regarding any need to discontinue or modify your current use of any blood-thinning medication. If necessary, we will get clearance from your cardiologist or other physician to ensure that this medication change is safe and appropriate for you based on your heart history, including prior heart attack, stent placement or open-heart surgery.

Be sure to make us aware if you have been started on an antibiotic for a bacterial infection prior to arriving for your injection. This may cause your injection to be delayed until you have cleared the infection.

You may shower/bathe before your procedure.

You may eat a light meal before your procedure unless you have been scheduled for IV sedation at one of our surgery center locations. If you are to have sedation, you should not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before your procedure. This includes water, coffee, chewing gum and hard candies.

General discharge instructions

You could feel dizzy or unsteady when you stand up. This can be normal. Take your time by rising slowly from a seated or lying position.

You can shower/bathe following your procedure unless told otherwise.

You may be asked to take it easy over the next couple of days. You may need to be off work the remainder of the day. If you need a work note or release, please ask us and we will be glad to provide you with one.


Request an appointment online and we will guide you through the next steps.