The Lowdown on Low Back Pain
(and Other Aches)


I am told that I need a discogram. What is a discogram?

A discogram is a test to find out if back pain is caused by damage to a disc.

There are many causes of back pain. The discs, the facet joints, the ligaments, the muscles and the nerves can all cause back pain. Discograms are recommended when the source of back pain is not certain. Discograms, first used in 1948, are done by placing tiny needles into suspect discs. A small amount of X-ray dye is injected. Research has shown that if typical back pain is reproduced by the injection, the disc may be the source of complaints and one of several treatments may be helpful.

The type of treatment depends on the kind of pain, the duration of symptoms, the X-ray and MRI findings, and the age of the patient. Physical therapy, chiropractic, pain medications, acupuncture, and pain blocks may all help. If these fail, an abnormal disc can be partially removed, treated with a laser or coagulated with an electrical current. It is possible to replace the bad disc with bone. In the future, a metal and plastic device called an “artificial disc” may be available.

A fusion is a major surgery where the disc is replaced with bone. The abnormal (painful) disc is removed while preserving adjacent (non-painful) levels. Depending on discogram findings, fusions may work 90 percent of the time. Since this is a major surgery, common sense dictates that the fusion operation be approached cautiously and other treatments such as IDET be considered.



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Last modified: 07/27/08