Provocative diskography: safety and predictive value in the outcome of spinal fusion or pain intervention for chronic low-back pain
Paul C Willems
Department of Orthopedic Surgery, CAPHRI Research School, Maastricht University Medical Center, Maastricht, the Netherlands
Abstract: There is still no clear definition of diskogenic low-back pain and no consensus on a generally agreed test, such as provocative diskography (PD), to diagnose painful disk degeneration, and probably more importantly, to predict the outcome of therapy intended to reduce pain that is presumed to be diskogenic in nature. Nevertheless, PD is the most specific procedure to diagnose diskogenic low-back pain. Its accuracy, however, is rather low or at best unknown. Although rare, the most prevalent complication, postdiskography diskitis, can be devastating for the individual patient, so all measures, like strict sterile conditions and antibiotic prophylaxis, should be taken to avoid this complication. It is advised to perform the procedure in a pressure-controlled way with a constant low flow, and optionally computed tomography imaging. PD should not be performed in morphologically normal disks. A standardized execution of the test should be established in order to perform high-quality studies to determine its accuracy to lead to meaningful interventions, and find best practices for diagnosis and treatment of diskogenic back pain. Possibly, PD may have detrimental effects on the disk, causing early degeneration, although it is unknown whether this will be related to clinical symptoms. Especially with these possible adverse side effects in mind, the risk–benefit ratio with the lack of clear benefits from treatments provided, and possible complications of disk puncture, the rationale for PD is questionable, which should be stressed to patients in the process of shared decision making. Diskography as a stand-alone test is not recommended in clinical decision making for patients with chronic low-back pain.
Keywords: provocative diskography, chronic low-back pain, prognostic accuracy, spinal fusion, pain intervention
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