What is a Discogram Procedure?

A discogram, or discography, is an invasive procedure. During a discogram, dye is injected into the injured discs of your spine. Then, X-rays are used to examine the discs and make a diagnosis.

The dye that is injected makes the discs visible on the X-ray. Discograms are used to determine which discs are injured and causing back pain. 

Why are Discograms Done?

Discograms aren’t used for diagnosing initial back pain. Doctors recommend discograms when back pain is persistent and medication and physical therapy have failed to bring relief. In some instances, doctors will use a discography before spinal fusion surgery to help determine which discs needs to be removed.

How to Prepare

Before having a discogram, discuss the procedure in detail with your doctor. You’ll want to be aware of the risks. Then, prepare for your discogram by doing the following:

  • Talk with your doctor about all medications that you are taking.
  • Do not eat or drink anything after midnight before your procedure.
  • Arrive two hours before your procedure is set to begin.

What to Expect

Your discogram will be performed in a hospital room or clinic that has imaging equipment. While the procedure only lasts 30 to 60 minutes, you will be there for a few hours.

During the Procedure

When the procedure begins, you will be lying on your side or abdomen. The doctor may inject a numbing medication to the decrease the pain of the insertion of the discogram needle, but you will not be under anesthesia.

Your doctor will use an imaging technique to watch the discogram needle enter your body. A contrast dye will then be injected into the disk and an X-ray or CT is taken to see if the dye spreads. You will be asked to describe your pain during the procedure.

After the Procedure

After the procedure, you will remain in the room for 30 to 60 minutes for observation. You may have pain at the point of the injection site or the low back for several hours, which is normal.  Once your medical team is through observing you, you can have someone drive you home.


Your doctor will review with you the images from your procedure and your description of your pain. This will help determine the source of your back pain and guide your treatment or the recommendation for surgery.

Doctors usually don’t rely on the results of a discogram alone for making a diagnosis. Expect more tests to follow, which may include an MRI or CT scan.  


There are some discogram side effects to be aware of. Those include:

  • Infection
  • Allergic reaction
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Nursing mothers should wait 24 hours after contrast material injection to breast feed