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The Rates of False-Positive Lumbar Discography in Select Patients Without Low Back Symptoms

Carragee, Eugene J., MD; Tanner, Cary M., MD; Khurana, Sanjay, MD; Hayward, Chris, MD; Welsh, John, MD; Date, Elaine, MD; Truong, Thao; Rossi, Michael, MD; Hagle, Chad


Study Design. Experimental disc injections in subjects with no history of low back symptoms.—

Objective. To determine in an experimental setting the relative pain response and pain-related behavior in selected subjects without a history of low back pain undergoing lumbar discography. This study aimed to select a study population that more closely represented patients undergoing discography in clinical practice.—

Summary of Background Data. Previous work has shown that in young, healthy men with little degenerative disc disease and no history of low back problems, discographic injections usually did not cause significant pain. This group differed from the patients who usually undergo discographic evaluation in clinical practice. Most clinical patients are older, have significant degenerative disc disease, have behavioral changes associated with chronic pain, and often have confounding psychosocial troubles. The authors undertook to study discography in subjects without low back pain but with clinical profiles similar to patients undergoing discography in clinical practice.—

Methods. Twenty-six individuals, mean age 43 years, with no history of low back pain had lumber discography according to the strict protocol of Walsh et al. Of these, 10 were pain-free; 10 had chronic neck and arm pain, but no low back symptoms; and 6 had primary somatization disorders without low back symptoms.—

Results. Significant positive pain response and pain-related behavior with discography were found in 10% of the pain-free group, in 40% of the chronic cervical pain group, and in 83% of the somatization disorder group completing the injections. Twenty-four subjects had negative control discs. Discs with anular disruption were more likely to be painful on injection, particularly in those individuals with ongoing compensation issues, chronic pain, or abnormal psychological testing.—

Conclusion. If strict criteria are applied, the rate of false-positive discography may be low in subjects with normal psychometric profiles and without chronic pain. Significantly painful injections were very common in subjects with anular disruption and chronic pain or abnormal psychometric testing.

From the Departments of Orthopedic Surgery, Radiology, Anesthesia, and Psychiatry, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, California.

Acknowledgment date: December 2, 1998.

First revision date: March 22, 1999.

Acceptance date: July 2, 1999.

Address reprint requests to

Eugene J. Carragee, MD

R 171 Orthopaedic Surgery

Stanford University School of Medicine

Stanford, CA 94305


Device status category: 1.

Conflict of interest category: 12.

© 2000 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.