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Extremity X-Ray

How It Is Done continued...

Two or more pictures of the affected limb are usually taken. The test focuses on the specific area that is injured or damaged.

X-ray pictures may also be taken of joints or limbs other than those where the obvious injury has occurred, since an injury at one point may cause damage somewhere else. For example, X-rays of the thighbone (femur) may include pictures of both the knee and hip joints.

Sometimes an X-ray picture of the unaffected limb is taken so it can be compared with the affected limb. This may happen with children because their bones are still growing. In children, there is an area called a growth plate where new bone is forming. Because it can be difficult to see fractures or other changes in the growth plate, it is helpful to compare the affected limb to the unaffected limb.

An extremity X-ray usually takes about 5 to 10 minutes. You will wait about 5 minutes until the X-rays are processed in case repeat pictures need to be taken. In some clinics and hospitals, X-ray pictures can be shown immediately on a computer screen (digitally).

How It Feels

You will feel no discomfort from the X-rays. The X-ray table may feel hard and the room may be cool. You may find that the positions you need to hold are uncomfortable or painful, especially if you have an injury.

Risks

There is always a slight risk of damage to cells or tissue from being exposed to any radiation, including the low levels of radiation used in this test. But the risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared with the potential benefits of the test.

For example, the radiation exposure from a chest X-ray is about equal to the natural radiation exposure received during a round-trip airline flight from Boston to Los Angeles (Montreal to Vancouver) or 10 days in the Rocky Mountains (Denver, Colorado).

Results

An extremity X-ray is a picture of your hand, wrist, arm, foot, ankle, knee, or leg. It is done to see whether your bone has been fractured or your joint dislocated. It is also used to check for an injury or damage from conditions such as infection, arthritis, bone growths (tumors), or other bone diseases, such as osteoporosis. In an emergency, the doctor can see the initial results of an extremity X-ray in a few minutes. Otherwise, a radiologist usually has the official X-ray report ready the next day.

Normal results
Normal:

The bones, joints, and soft tissue look normal. No foreign objects, such as fragments of metal or glass, are present.

No infection and no abnormal growths (tumors) are present.

The joints are normal with no dislocation or signs of disease, such as arthritis.

All parts of a joint replacement are in the correct position.

Abnormal results
Abnormal:

Fractured bones may be present.

Foreign objects, such as fragments of metal or glass, may be present.

Abnormal growths (tumors) are present.

Signs of bleeding or infection, such as a collection of blood, pus, or gas may be present.

A joint may be dislocated.

The bones or joints may show signs of damage from a disease such as osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, gout, Paget's disease, or rheumatoid arthritis of the feet camera.gif and hands camera.gif.

Swelling is present in tissues around the bones even though the bones may be normal.

There are loose parts, worn parts, or an infection in a joint that has artificial pieces (joint replacement).

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 24, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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