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This is an imaging test that uses a special contrast material to view the spinal cord. The contrast material used in the X-ray can help your doctor clearly outline the space containing the spinal cord and nerves.

This is used to detect problems in and around the spinal cord, such as:

  • Spinal tumors
  • Herniated discs
  • Stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal)

Prior to Your Myelogram

Your doctor may do the following:

  • Physical exam and medical history
  • Ask if you are pregnant — this test is not usually done on women who are pregnant
  • Ask about your medical history
  • Determine if you have any allergies, specifically, allergies to contrast dye 
    • If you do have a dye allergy, speak with your provider about the possible severity of your reaction to see if premedication is needed

Preparing for a Myelogram

Leading up to your procedure:

  • Before the procedure, please make sure to tell us if you use any medications that thin your blood. To prevent any complications, you may need to stop taking your blood thinners. If that's the case, we'll need to coordinate with the provider who prescribed your blood thinner.
  • Don't eat any solid foods beginning 3 hours before the test. Liquids are OK.
  • After your procedure, you can't drive for the rest of the day. It is very important that you arrange for someone to take you home. We can't complete your test unless you have a driver present with you at the time of your procedure.
  • Sedation is not routinely prescribed. If you believe you'll need sedation or think you may feel overly anxious, you'll need to contact the provider who ordered your test. The neuroradiology team won't be able to sedate you unless  it's already ordered by your provider.

There is usually no anesthesia with this procedure. Your provider will give you a local anesthetic to reduce the needle pain, but you will remain awake during the procedure.

The Myelogram Procedure    

You will lie on your side or face down. You will be given a local anesthetic injection in your back.

Using a live X-ray camera (fluoroscopy), we will insert a needle into the space between your vertebrae. Next, the contrast will be injected through the needle. While the dye is being injected, your provider will continue to use an imaging procedure called fluoroscopy.

To take the images, you will be positioned stomach-down on the table. A brace will be against your shoulders. The table will be tipped forward. Next, the doctor will take images of your back. You will hold your breath while the images are taken. You may be asked to turn slightly to one side and then the other.

Your doctor will perform a CT scan after the contrast dye is in place. Following the CT scan, you will rest in the recovery room and will be released once you’ve been assessed by our nursing staff.

How Long Will It Take?    

About 30-60 minutes (CT scan will take 30-60 minutes longer). You will be able to go home after about an hour.

How Much Will It Hurt?    

You will have some pressure or pain when the needle is inserted. It is very common to feel pressure and a cramping sensation when the dye is inserted.

After the Myelogram    

After your myelogram, do not drive for the rest of the day.  

Avoid strenuous exercise (including bending over) for 24 hours.

You may be more comfortable lying on your back after the procedure, but be sure to elevate your head at least 30 degrees (use 2 pillows) when lying on your back for at least 24 hours following the procedure.

Don’t drink any alcohol for 24 hours after the procedure.

Drink at least 8 ounces of water per hour for 24 hours (while awake) after the procedure.

Possible Myelogram Complications

Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like:

  • Headache
  • Allergic reaction to the contrast
  • Bleeding
  • Inflamed or infected spinal cord

When to Call Your Doctor    

It is important to monitor your recovery. Alert your doctor to any problems. If any of the following occur, call your doctor:

  • Signs of infection, including fever and chills
  • Leakage of fluid from the puncture site
  • Headache lasting more than 24 hours
  • Excessive nausea or vomiting
  • Neck stiffness
  • Numbness in your legs
  • Trouble urinating or moving your bowels
  • Symptoms of allergic reaction, such as hives , itching, nausea, swollen or itchy eyes, tight throat or difficulty breathing
  • Worsening of your symptoms

If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.