Lumbar discography. Position statement from the North American Spine Society Diagnostic and Therapeutic Committee

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 1995 Sep 15;20(18):2048-59.


Study design: A comprehensive review of the literature dealing with lumbar discography was conducted.

Objective: The purpose of the review was to generate a position statement addressing criticisms of lumbar discography, identify indications for its use, and describe a technique for its performance.

Summary of background data: Lumbar discography remains a controversial diagnostic procedure. There are concerns about its safety and clinical value, although others support its use in specific applications.

Methods: Articles dealing with lumbar discography were reviewed and summarized in this report.

Results: Most of the recent literature supports the use of discography in select patients. Although not to be taken lightly, many of the serious and high complication rates were reported before 1970 and have decreased since because of improvement in injection technique, imaging, and contrast materials.

Conclusions: Most of the current literature supports the use of discography in select situations. Particular applications include patients with persistent pain in whom disc abnormality is suspect, but noninvasive tests have not provided sufficient diagnostic information or the images need to be correlated with clinical symptoms. Another application is assessment of discs in patients in whom fusion is being considered. Discography's role in such cases is to determine if discs within the proposed fusion segment are symptomatic and if the adjacent discs are normal. Discography appears to be helpful in patients who have previously undergone surgery but continue to experience significant pain. In such cases, it can be used to differentiate between postoperative scar and recurrent disc herniation and to investigate the condition of a disc within, or adjacent to, a fused spinal segment to better delineate the source of symptoms. When minimally invasive discectomy is being considered, discography can be used to confirm a contained disc herniation, which is generally an indication for such surgical procedures. Lumbar discography should be performed by those well experienced with the procedure and in sterile conditions with a double needle technique and fluoroscopic imaging for proper needle placement. Information assessed and recorded should include the volume of contrast injected, pain response with particular emphasis on its location and similarity to clinical symptoms, and the pattern of dye distribution. Frequently, discography is followed by axial computed tomography scanning to obtain more information about the condition of the disc.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Intervertebral Disc / diagnostic imaging*
  • Intervertebral Disc / pathology
  • Intervertebral Disc / surgery
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / pathology
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Societies, Medical
  • Spinal Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed