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Extremity X-Ray

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).

What Affects the Test

Reasons you may not be able to have the test or why the results may not be helpful include:

  • If you can't remain still during the test. This may cause the pictures to be blurry.
  • If you are very overweight. This can make it hard to see details in some types of X-ray pictures.
  • If you are pregnant and need an X-ray of a leg in the area close to the pelvis.

What To Think About

  • Your X-ray results may be different from earlier test results because you were tested at a different medical center or you had a different kind of test.
  • Extremity X-rays do not give a clear picture of soft tissue, such as cartilage, tendons, or ligaments. A computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be needed to check the condition of these soft tissues.
  • Fractures or other bone problems are not always seen on an X-ray. In these cases, other tests such as a bone scan, CT scan, or MRI may be needed to give a clearer picture. To learn more, see the topic Bone Scan.
  • Not all injuries to the arms or legs need X-rays. An X-ray may not be done if the doctor believes that the results would not change or affect the treatment and follow-up care.

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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