An x-ray or radiograph is a painless medical test that helps physicians diagnose and treat medical conditions. Radiography involves exposing a part of the body to a small dose of ionizing radiation produce pictures of the inside of the body. X-rays are the oldest and most frequently used forms of medical imaging.
A bone x-ray makes images of any bone in the body, including the hand, wrist, arm, foot, ankle, knee, leg or spine.
What does the equipment look like?
Reasons for having an X-ray
A bone x-ray is used to:
- Determine whether a bone has been fractured or if a joint is dislocated.
- Ensure that a fracture has been properly aligned and stabilized for healing following treatment.
- Determine whether there is a build up of fluid in the joint or around a bone.
- Guide orthopedic surgery, such as spinal repair, joint replacement and fracture reductions.
- Evaluate injury or damage from conditions such as infection, arthritis, abnormal bone growths or other bone diseases, such as osteoporosis.
- Assist in the detection and diagnosis of cancer.
- Locate foreign objects.
- Evaluate changes in bones.
While x-ray images are among the clearest, most detailed views of bone, they provide little information about the adjacent soft tissues.
An MRI may be more useful in identifying ligament tears and joint effusions in knee or shoulder injuries and in imaging the spine, because both the bones and the spinal cord can be evaluated. MRI can also detect a bone bruise when no crack is visible on x-ray images.
Ultrasound imaging, which uses sound waves instead of ionizing radiation, has also been useful for injuries around joints and in evaluating the hips of children with congenital problems.
What are the benefits vs. risks?
- Bone x-rays are the fastest and easiest way for a physician to view and assess broken bones and joint and spine injuries.
- X-ray equipment is relatively inexpensive and widely available in physician offices, ambulatory care centers, nursing homes and other locations, making it convenient for both patients and physicians.
- Because x-ray imaging is fast and easy, it is particularly useful in emergency diagnosis and treatment.
- No radiation remains in a patient's body after an x-ray examination.
- X-rays usually have no side effects.
- There is always a slight chance of cancer from radiation. However, the benefit of an accurate diagnosis far outweighs the risk.
- During a single x-ray exposure, a patient is exposed to approximately 20 milliroentgens of radiation. We are all exposed to approximately 100 milliroentgens of radiation each year from sources like the ultraviolet rays of the sun and small traces of radioactive isotopes, such as uranium, in the soil. Women should always inform their physician or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant.
Special care is taken during x-ray examinations to use the lowest radiation dose possible while producing the best images for evaluation. National and international radiology protection councils continually review and update the technique standards used by radiology professionals.
State-of-the-art x-ray systems have tightly controlled x-ray beams with significant filtration and dose control methods to minimize stray or scatter radiation. This ensures those parts of a patient's body not being imaged receive minimal radiation exposure.
How do I prepare for an X-ray?
Most bone x-rays require no special preparation. Please leave your jewelry and valuables at home. Please wear comfortable clothing with no metal or zippers to the exam. You may be asked to remove some or all of your clothes and to wear a gown during the exam. You may also be asked to remove jewelry, eyeglasses and any metal objects or clothing that might interfere with the x-ray images.
Women should always inform their physician or x-ray technologist if there is any possibility that they are pregnant. Many imaging tests are not performed during pregnancy because radiation can be harmful to the fetus. If an x-ray is necessary, precautions will be taken to minimize radiation exposure to the baby.
What will I experience during and after the procedure?
The technologist will explain the procedure, answer any questions you might have. A bone x-ray examination itself is a painless procedure. You may experience discomfort from the cool temperature in the examination room. You may also find holding still in a particular position and lying on the hard examination table uncomfortable, especially if you are injured. The technologist will assist you in finding the most comfortable position possible that still ensures x-ray image quality.