Disc stimulation is a diagnostic procedure in which x-ray dye or contrast material is injected into the discs of the spine while monitoring the pressure of the disc to see if this reproduces your pain. After the x-ray dye is injected, an x-ray or CT scan, called a discogram, is taken of the discs. The discogram may be normal or may show tears, fissures or other damage to the disc.
Disc stimulation is typically done to answer the questions two questions. "Is my back pain or neck pain directly caused by a degenerated or damaged disc?" and "Which discs are causing my pain?" Disc stimulation will not treat a damaged disc; it is a test, not a treatment. Treatment will be determined by the findings of the disc stimulation.
Most patients are recommended to rest for 2-3 days after the injection.
Disc stimulation takes about twenty to thirty minutes per level injected, with the total time depending on how many levels are injected. When a normal disc is injected, you will feel a sense of pressure, but not pain. When an abnormal disc is injected, you will feel pain. It is important to try to tell if the pain you are feeling is your usual pain or different. With each disc injected, you will be asked if it is painful, where you feel the pain and whether it is in the same area as your usual pain. The injection consists of x-ray dye (x-ray contrast). It may be mixed with some antibiotics to prevent infection. Occasionally local anesthetic or steroid may be injected as well.
Generally speaking, this procedure is safe. However, with any procedure there are risks, side effects and possibility of complications. The most common side effect is pain at the injection site, which is temporary. Sometimes, the needle brushes past a nerve root and the nerve root is irritated. This pain usually gets better quickly. The other risks involve infection, bleeding and worsening of symptoms. Infection of a disc or discitis is a serious complication and must be treated with antibiotics. Fortunately, the serious side effects and complications are uncommon.