Skeletal X-rays (Radiography)
X-rays are passed through the bones or skeletal region being examined, producing images of these structures on a special type of film. When bone radiography is used to examine the spinal column alone, it is termed a spinal x-ray. Examination of the entire skeleton is known as a skeletal survey.
Purpose of Bone X-ray
- To detect bone fractures and other abnormalities after a traumatic injury
- To detect primary bone cancer or cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the bone
- To detect infectious diseases of the bones, including the spinal vertebrae
- To evaluate the intervertebral disc spaces in the lower spine
- To assess abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis), degenerative disease of the spinal structures, and other spinal deformities
- To diagnose different types of arthritis
- To detect infections, abnormal bone growths and changes in bone caused by metabolic conditions
- To make sure of proper alignment and bone stabilization following treatment for a fracture
- To guide spine repair/fusion, joint replacement, fracture reductions, and other types of orthopedic surgery
- To detect foreign objects in soft tissues and bones
Who Performs Bone X-rays
Special Concerns about Bone X-rays
- Pregnant women should not undergo this test because exposure to ionizing radiation may harm the fetus.
Before the Bone X-rays
- Remove any jewelry or metal objects before the test. If necessary, you will be asked to disrobe and put on a hospital gown.
- If you are having a spinal x-ray and have long hair, clip your hair up beforehand so that it does not hang over your chest or shoulders.
- If you are having a skull x-ray, be sure to remove your glasses, contact lenses, hairpins, and dentures.
- In some cases, a protective lead shield may be placed over parts of the body not being scanned in order to minimize exposure to radiation.
- Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or you may be pregnant.
What You Experience during Bone X-rays
- A technician will position you in front of an x-ray machine—either sitting, standing, or lying down on a table, depending on which bone(s) are being examined.
- You will be asked to remain perfectly still and hold your breath while the x-ray is being taken. Any movement can distort the image.
- You may be instructed to assume different positions as additional x-rays are obtained from different angles or of different bones, depending on the purpose of the test.
- The test usually takes 5 to 10 minutes. A full skeletal survey may take up to 1 hour.
Risks and Complications of Bone X-rays
- X-ray exams involve minimal exposure to radiation.
After Bone X-rays
- If the test is elective, you may return home and resume your normal activities.
Results of Bone X-rays
- A doctor will examine the x-ray films for evidence of any abnormalities.
- If a definitive diagnosis can be made, appropriate treatment will be initiated, depending on the specific problem.
- In many cases, additional tests, such as a skeletal MRI, a CT scan, or a bone scan, may be required for further evaluation.
The Johns Hopkins Consumer Guide to Medical Tests
Simeon Margolis, M.D., Ph.D., Medical Editor
Updated by Remedy Health Media