X-rays are pictures of the spine. They may be taken to find injuries or
diseases that affect the
discs or joints in your spine. These problems may include spinal
fractures, infections, dislocations, tumors, bone
spurs, or disc disease.
Spinal X-rays are also done to check the curve of
your spine (scoliosis) or for spinal defects.
are a form of radiation, like light or radio waves, that are focused into a
beam, much like a flashlight beam. X-rays can pass through most objects,
including the human body.
Dense tissues in the
body, such as bones, block (absorb) many of the X-rays and look white on an
X-ray picture. Less dense tissues, such as muscles and organs, block fewer of
the X-rays (more of the X-rays pass through) and look like shades of gray on an
X-ray. X-rays that pass only through air look black on the picture.
The spine is divided into
four parts. So there are four common types of spinal X-rays:
- Cervical spine X-ray. This X-ray test takes
pictures of the 7 neck (cervical) bones.
- Thoracic spine X-ray. This X-ray test takes
pictures of the 12 chest (thoracic) bones.
- Lumbosacral spine X-ray. This X-ray test takes
pictures of the 5 bones of the lower back (lumbar vertebrae) and a view of the
5 fused bones at the bottom of the spine (sacrum).
- Sacrum/coccyx X-ray. This X-ray test takes a
detailed view of the 5 fused bones at the bottom of the spine (sacrum) and the
4 small bones of the tailbone (coccyx).
The most common spinal X-rays are of the cervical
vertebrae (C-spine films) and lumbosacral vertebrae (LS-spine films).
Why It Is Done
A spinal X-ray is done to:
- Find the cause of ongoing pain, numbness, or
- Check for
arthritis of the joints between the vertebrae and the
breakdown (degeneration) of the discs between the spinal
- Check injuries to the spine, such as fractures or
- Check the spine for effects
from other problems, such as infections, tumors, or bone
- Check for abnormal curves of the spine, such as
scoliosis, in children or young adults.
- Check the spine for
problems present at birth (congenital conditions), such as
spina bifida, in infants, children, or young
- Check changes in the spine after spinal surgery.
How To Prepare
Before the X-ray test, tell your
doctor if you:
- Are or might be pregnant. The
risk of radiation exposure to your unborn baby (fetus) must be
considered. The risk of damage from the X-rays is usually very low compared
with the potential benefits of the test. If a spinal X-ray is absolutely
necessary, a lead apron will be placed over your belly to shield your baby
from the X-rays.
- Have had an X-ray test using barium
contrast material (such as a
barium enema) in the past 4 days. Barium shows up on
X-ray films and makes it hard to get a clear picture of the lower back (lumbar
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